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Valley of the Sasquatch (2015)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH (2015)

Starring: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Jason Vail, D'Angelo Midili, David Saucedo, Bill Oberst, Jr.

Written and Directed By: John Portanova

The Short Version

Sasquatch is coming down the mountain, and he’s pissed!

Considering how unpalatable his new neighbors are, I can’t say I blame him.

There are some massive misfires here, but the overall concept ends up a win.

It’s also got an outstanding look and feel.

Despite some shortcomings, Valley of the Sasquatch is worth the time for Bigfoot fans.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEEZ HOT DOGS.

Made by adding Cheez Whiz after cooking the hot dogs over a campfire, of course.

.


Pairs Well With...

RANIER BEER.

Let’s be honest.  We all know that “deer camp” is a misspelling of “beer camp.”

“Something is gonna kill it eventually.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t have to be me.”


Ah, Bigfoot.  Or, as he’s known at more formal parties that require (oversized) shoes, Sasquatch.  In the catalog of scientifically unrecognized creatures from the world of cryptozoology, Sasquatch stands tall with star power.  In keeping with such, at the time of the writing, Sasquatch is also all the rage on “documentary” television… even though he never actually shows up there in the flesh.  And yet, for all of the creature’s celebrity status, one goofy family comedy from the 80s aside, that popularity hasn’t really transferred over to the cinema or to the video shop. 

Of course, one could argue that this is because nearly every attempt to bring Sasquatch to the bijou thus far has stunk.  (And if I take the rose colored glasses off, I’m even rather tepid about Harry and the Hendersons.)  Or perhaps it’s because Bigfoot seems to have a thing for destroying trailers.  Whatever the case may be, The October People’s new release Valley of the Sasquatch finds itself without a whole lot of direct subgenre competition, which puts a point in its favor even before the first frame flashes up on the screen.

And once the frames do start flickering…

There can be no denying that the film’s opener is highly effective.  One is immediately struck by the beauty of the cinematography, which will prove to be a constant throughout the movie, even on those occasions when cinematographer Jeremy Berg isn’t being given a helping hand by the majesty of the Northwestern woods.  As the camera picks up a lone trekker hiking up into said woods, there’s a “what’s happening over my shoulder” atmosphere that comes into play, and the initial “hook” horror moment that follows soon after is perfectly balanced: introducing the audience to the creature without showing too much, and presenting a lot of open possibilities regarding what might happen next.  It’s just the kind of excellence I’ve come to expect from The October People.

Then the real movie starts.

Quick shot of good news before I go on: if you’re looking forward to catching a Bigfoot flick and you’re realistic about the limitations presented by a non-Hollywood budget, Valley of the Sasquatch is worth the haul if you stick with it.  It looks great, the feel of the creature material is good, and the overall concept is a winner.  I mention this now because there’s a fair amount of pain along the way.  Come to think of it, it’s just like the good old days of the video store era in that respect, and that’s not a bad thing if you’re prepared for it.

For me, one of the biggest problems with many creature/monster/alien flicks is that a bunch of annoying human beings tend to get in the way of the cool stuff.  Alas, the majority of the humans in Valley of the Sasquatch are very, very annoying, and the script won’t let them shut up.  Relationship complexity and depth of character are fine, but the young man with alcoholic daddy issues thing has been done to death, resurrected, and killed again so many times that even the word “cliché” doesn’t seem strong enough.  It doesn’t help that I spent the first little while not being really sure what the relationship between the characters we eventually find out are the aforementioned young man and alcoholic daddy actually was; to be honest, I was getting a very strong Deliverance quasi-kidnap vibe right up to the point when the word “Dad” was finally used (way later than it should be), and frankly, it took more than an hour to completely go away.  It also doesn’t help that I left my brain turned on for this one (I’ve been spoiled by these filmmakers), so when movie logic came up in the dialogue, I became distracted by refuting it with real world logic.  (Can’t afford a phone?)

I was also bothered by the fact that “Dad” and “Uncle” look just about the same age as the “young man.”   (Turns out that “Dad” is actually in his 40s, which means he ages damn well.  Good for him in real life, but…)   In terms of physical casting, this was exceptionally distracting and shoved me right back out of the story that the pre-title sequence had done such a great job of drawing me into.  But even that was nothing compared to the character of Sergio, whom the script goes much too far out of its way to inform you is, no words minced, a complete and utter asshole.  A few choice comments would have been enough, really, but no; every line of dialogue is devoted to painting Sergio as the most unlikable human being to come along since Pol Pot.  It gets very tiring very fast.

I do want to point out, though, that none of the problems I have with the characters have anything to do with the actors playing them; they all do an outstanding job playing the parts that have been set before them.  (If anything, perhaps they’re too convincing with their craft.)  This is strictly a script problem.

In elimination horror flicks like Valley of the Sasquatch – don’t tell me that was surprise to anyone – the payoff for dealing with such characters is supposed to be that most or all of the annoying people end up dying in creative ways.  Unfortunately, in Valley of the Sasquatch, it takes a long time for that payoff to happen.  That first hour after the credits feels like it takes about two.  The bro-ness is almost overwhelming.

But…

I refused to believe that writer/director John Portanova (whose work I have very much enjoyed in the past) would let me down, and in the end, he didn’t.  Trying though the family dynamics and the bro-ness are, the actual Sasquatch plot is fantastic.  It takes established bits of legend and weaves them into something sensible, multilayered, and coherent, and when the climax comes along and presents a “ruin or redeem the movie” moment, Valley of the Sasquatch comes through with a solid redemption.  Painful though the journey is at times, the payoff is very much worth it, especially if one walks in with a “low indie budget” mindset from the start.

Speaking of, even at the Hollywood level, few creature effects have earned the level of disdain that has been given to the gorilla suit, which for all intents and purposes a Sasquatch costume basically is.  As it turns out, I was very impressed by the look of the creature in Valley of the Sasquatch, both in terms of the “gradual reveal” strategy employed behind the camera and with its look under some real light.  It doesn’t look like a man in a cheesy suit (it’s given the presence of Wampa, actually), and the face is especially well done: an expressive throwback to something prehistoric but still decidedly on the road to being human.  In the end, a Bigfoot movie lives or dies on the believability of its Bigfoot, and Valley of the Sasquatch passes this test very well indeed.

And then there’s that wonderful camera work I mentioned earlier, which never goes away.  Valley of the Sasquatch is visually excellent from start to finish, even inside of a filthy ramshackle cabin that will be instantly recognizable to many an audience member who’s spent some time at the family cabin in the woods.  (Though my favorite moment in the film has nothing to do with cabins or woods or cryptozoological superstars; instead, it’s a wordless exchange of looks between the young man and the only female the audience ever gets to see up close, with him waiting in the truck while she busies herself with her phone or her iPod or something on that order.  Cinematography doesn’t need vistas to be great, and editing doesn’t need action to be perfect.)

Bottom line, Valley of the Sasquatch certainly has its share of (very) rough spots, but in the end, the payoff is worth it, especially if you’re one of the millions of people who’s been starved for an actual on-screen Bigfoot sighting.  The visuals are great and the concept is fantastic; just walk in with the proper mindset, and you’ll be good to go.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2015


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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