In 1993 David Holthouse did what many adventurous and impecunious young men did at the time and headed to northern California to earn some money in the burgeoning illegal marijuana trade. When he got there he overheard a terrified eyewitness account of a gruesome Bigfoot attack that left three workers torn to pieces. He didn’t stay on much longer after that and went on to become an intrepid investigative journalist.
But the incident involving Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) haunted him. Three decades later he returns to the scene to uncover the truth, and that’s the story Joshua Rofé tells in his twisty, suspenseful, and provocative three-part Hulu documentary series “Sasquatch.”
Featuring Holthouse’s hard-boiled voice-over, interviews with oddball or sinister characters with names like Ghostdance and Razor, and punctuated by moody no-frills animated reenactments, the film descends into the labyrinth of memory, myth, and history.
Holthouse talks with Sasquatch believers for background and possible leads. Known as “Squatchers,” most are kooky in their cultishness, but they also include an anthropologist with a collection of plaster-cast footprints and assorted hair samples who perfunctorily claims, based on such evidence, that Bigfoot exists.
One Squatcher relates how he first saw a Bigfoot when he was 10 and had once looked out a window at 2 a.m. “I saw those eyes,” he says. “I remember screaming.” One eyewitness, a retired policeman, is reduced to tears as he recounts his terror upon encountering the creature. Their descriptions suggest a monster who, enraged by the marijuana growers’ incursion into its territory, could very well have been capable of the grisly murders Holthouse is investigating,
Holthouse also looks into the history of the region. Though sublime in its beauty, the seemingly endless, towering forests of the Northwest have been the setting for heinous acts spurred by greed, despoliation, and genocide. During the 1860s, prospectors in their quest for instant riches massacred Native Americans. Loggers cut down the redwoods and by the 1970s 95 percent of the original trees, some more than a 1,000 years old, were gone.
The marijuana trade had less ominous origins. Disgruntled hippies fleeing a corrupted counterculture for a back-to-nature Eden settled in this fertile three-county region known as the Emerald Triangle. As one former back-to-lander recalls, the rich soil produced “the tastiest tomatoes and … cannabis [that] is just the best in the world.”
The cannabis proved the more profitable crop. Some of the hippies, seduced by creeping capitalism and outlaw thrills, made it their trade. Their prosperity drew covetous outsiders, and the original homesteaders started carrying assault rifles as they listened to the Grateful Dead while cultivating their crop. Those put off by the greed, internecine feuds, and government raids left; and their Eden was taken over by cartels hiring and exploiting undocumented immigrants. Many of these laborers disappeared, and the woods still hide uncounted victims of avarice and savagery.
In this precarious setting Holthouse pursues his investigation with affable fearlessness (in a feature movie version of the story he’d be played by a Snake Plissken-era Kurt Russell). His inquiries bump into dead ends and dicey encounters but also seem on the verge of some revelation or resolution. Explaining his obsession with solving the mystery he relates how he had been the victim of a sexual assault as a child by a “monster,” and he has since dedicated himself to tracking down monsters, whether of the human or humanoid variety.
His quest is in one sense an interior one, a spiritual journey, which is underscored by the eerie soundtrack and the animated sequences. The latter’s repeated re-enactments of versions of the crime recall those in Errol Morris’s “The Thin Blue Line” (1988). The style of animation evokes that in Ari Folman’s wartime memoir “Waltz with Bashir” (2008), also a foray into forgotten past trauma. Underlying the thrilling true-crime story is confrontation with a myth that reflects the monstrous potential within us all.
“Sasquatch” premieres April 20 on Hulu. Go to hulu.tv/3sl63QV.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.