Despite its playfully elusive theme and a title that is slightly wrong, Joshua Rofes latest documentaries, Hulus “Sasquatch, ”Produced by the Duplass brothersUse the title monster mainly as an introduction to exploring the monstrosity of racial relations in the so-called Emerald Triangle in California. Rofe’s series is misleading and somewhat scattered in how it brings together a number of different narrative threads. Still, it’s a disturbing and compelling glimpse into the Squatch Hunters’ subculture, as well as the interface between illegal pot planters and the migrant work they employ. If these two topics sound radically independent, that’s somewhat of the point, as Rofe highlights the relationship between socially defined monstrosity and those who reject conventional lifestyles. As becomes clearer and clearer in the three episodes, each lasting less than an hour, “Sasquatch” is much more about the reasons why we create fictional monsters to explain our own horrific deeds than about those who try chasing fictional creation.
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According to the gonzo journalist David Holthouse, a producer of the film, he first tells of his time on a pot farm in Mendocino County, California, in 1993. After already leading a life in which he infiltrated meth traffickers and neo-Nazis and subsequently wrote about it, Holthouse is particularly attuned to how underground cultures work. While hanging on a farm, he hears a story about three cannabis farm workers who were brutally murdered, limb torn apart, possibly by a mythical animal. Although initially giving little thought to the story, he returns to the Emerald Triangle – Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino Counties in Northern California – to investigate whether the story is true. What begins as an entertaining, albeit inferred, look at the strange group of Sasquatch hunters who populate the county in the first episode soon turns into a much darker exploration of the murders in the second and third.
By delving into the history of the area, which lays claim to not only Sasquatch sightings – including the infamous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film supposedly showing Bigfoot – but a complex and self-contained economy of marijuana growers. Tying Holthouse’s current investigation into context, Rofe shows how back-to-landers created a pot-growing haven in the region in the 1970s just to conduct small government operations – including the ironically named CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) ) – destroy their work in the 1980s. As this black market grew, the types of people who took on the cultivation shifted from the docile hippies of the ’70s to more nefarious figures in the’ 90s to the present day. Further tied to this underground market was the inherent racist component of which numerous workers migrated to the triangle in hopes of finding lucrative but nonetheless illegal positions on these makeshift farms.
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As Holthouse continues to move through this subculture, meeting various contacts, informants, and investigators, the film treats his investigation as an entry point into the larger problems plaguing the region. Like his use of Sasquatch, Rolfe’s series may begin with a murder, but that’s really only a minor component in the larger story. Holthouse’s tenacious determination to solve a murder that may not even exist is intriguing in the way he extracts and tries to corroborate information. When Holthouse is introduced to the various actors involved in the drug trade, Rolfe makes some interesting formal choices. Mixing up animations, reenactments, and pixelated characters, you are never sure what is really documented and what is being staged by the filmmakers – a compelling, if still controversial, choice. In a series that often deals with the interface between myth and fact, Rofe ensures that the viewer consistently questions the authenticity of a particular scene.
While “Sasquatch” is about the length of a feature film, the series aspect works surprisingly, with each chapter zooming out on the obnoxious murders to see how the region protects its own and what happens if an intruder like Holthouse tries to gain entry. However, as the series grows, it also gets a little confused and tries to explain the story of Bigfoot, pot farming, and migrant workers in three relatively short episodes. “Sasquatch” takes on a little too much and is full of information, history, supernatural and research. While the series often moves cleverly between these genres, Rofe and Holthouse don’t necessarily bring everything together in the final episode in a completely satisfactory way. While we get explanations, or more precisely preliminary answers, regarding the murders and the Squatch connection, this is one of the few series that could have benefited from an increase in episodes to further examine the historical antagonism between the pot builders and the conservative struggle against them . Despite these minor concerns, “Sasquatch” is a particularly compelling, binge-ready show that hides a complexity beneath its simple title. [B+]
“Sasquatch” is available now on Hulu.