Don’t blame a cryptid for your weed murders
Hulu’s new three-episode docuseries Sasquatch isn’t really about Sasquatch. Well, it is, but it’s about Sasquatch in the same way the documentary Tickled is about an international tickling competition or Three Identical Strangers is about triplets. Those intriguing subjects are just the jumping-off point for something less outlandish, but much more sinister.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
Sasquatch used its urban legend subject matter and a cheeky 4/20 release date to lure in the Bigfoot enthusiasts on its first episode. By episode two, the story dives deep into a complicated tale involving memory, the War on Drugs, a triple homicide, undocumented workers and the human need to create monsters in order to cope with truama, or ostracize others.
Investigative journalist David Holthouse kicks it off with a memory of something that happened one night when he was working on a weed farm nearly 30 years ago in California’s Golden Triangle region. He was sitting in a house on the farm when some other farmers rain in, frantically saying they just saw Bigfoot maul three weed farmers. Now, decades later, Holthouse is investigating who really killed those farmers, but the only suspect name he has is the California Cryptid himself.
The first episode features the most Sasquatch content, as Holthouse interviews Bigfoot truthers and folks who claim to have seen the monster lurking in the woods. Animator Drew Christie illustrates Holthouse’s original, hazy memory of a tale and other Bigfoot stories as recalled crime scenes, lending the series an otherworldly, graphic-novel quality. These drawings aren’t done for comic effect. The people who claim to have seen Sasquatch truly believe in him; at one point an ex-cop is nearly brought to tears as he recalls one alleged sighting. Sasquatch, and Holthouse, never looks down on these people or tries to exploit their beliefs.
But once the second episode dispels some of the myths around Sasquatch, that’s when the real purpose of the three-episode docuseries shows itself. Holthouse uses the various myths and legends the mountain farmers tell about Bigfoot as a way to study the history of workers in the Golden Triangle region. He creates a lineage from the Gold Rush to Redwood tree harvesting to weed farming–all territorial resource mining jobs that require workers to guard their turf. In 1993, the year Bigfoot supposedly murdered undocumented workers, the War on Drugs also added to that turf war.
As Holthouse learns more and more about the region, the events of that Oct. 1993 night only become more unclear. His investigation unearths a possible suspect: Bigfoot Gary, a big man who legend says killed those three men because they tried to rape his daughter. The only problem is, Gary didn’t have a daughter in 1993. And did Holthouse really hear the workers say “Bigfoot” after all? By his own, un-filmed account, he was high at the time. So who killed those workers? The closest solution Holthouse finds is that they encroached on another farmer’s turf and someone killed them and then framed Bigfoot.
If that’s true, then why didn’t the police arrest anyone? Did they not fully investigate three deaths because the victims worked as weed farmers, and possibly undocumented weed farmers at that? These are all questions that don’t come with tidy answers.
The legend of Sasquatch is ripe for metaphor: Just last year in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, Max Brooks’ Devolution, about a fictional Sasquatch massacre, became a rallying cry for people to work together. In that book, humans are the heroes fighting against a monster both literal and metaphorical.
But the Sasquatch docuseries wants the audience to question itself: about the way we tell ourselves stories, about the ways we cast ourselves as heroes fighting against our monsters. Because we don’t just use monsters as enemies to fight. We aso use those monsters, and the legends surrounding them, as a way to absolve ourselves of our guilt or shame.
And this isn’t just something that individuals do. America has invented monsters and boogeymen to fight against for centuries. The truly sinister idea Sasquatch asks you to ponder as the credits roll is not whether or not Bigfoot is real and kills people. It’s that even if that were true, what we do to each other is far worse.
So, no, Sasquatch isn’t really about Sasquatch. It’s about so much more than that. And if you’re willing to forgive the initial bait-and-switch, it’s a compelling, thoughtful documentary that will make you think twice.