The most interesting true crimes are often the ones that sound so unlikely that they verge on fiction, spiraling from headlines into myths. Hulu’s new series “Sasquatch” covers that type of crime, investigating rumors that three cannabis farmworkers were murdered in a gruesome fashion attributed to legendary forest monster Sasquatch.
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Directed by Joshua Rofé (“Lorena”), the Hulu series follows gonzo journalist David Holthouse as he investigates an anecdote he heard at a cannabis farm in Northern California in the 1990s. The area best known as a hotbed of cannabis cultivation has gained a reputation in popular culture as a particularly dangerous region, partially due to the Netflix series “Murder Mountain.” While the series has been criticized as sensational, its sentiments are echoed by the longtime cannabis farmers interviewed in “Sasquatch.”
Holthouse, who has worked as an embedded journalist for 25 years covering subjects like neo-Nazi communities, serves as the lead detective on the series, gumshoeing his way through Mendocino County trying to find clues to the supposed murders. Scenes were often shot with only one cameraman and no support crew in order to create a sense of security between Holthouse and his sources, many of whose voices and images are obscured.
“In some cases, he was developing sources over the course of an entire year,” says Rofé. “His wheelhouse is essentially pockets of society that would make the rest of us really uncomfortable, and really afraid. He thrives in those situations.”
The three-episode series premiering April 20 is indeed terrifying. For inspiration, Rofé looked not to other true crime docs, but rather tense feature films like “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” “Zodiac,” “The Parallax View” and “Memories of a Murder” by “Parasite” director Bong Joon-ho.
Sources repeatedly caution Holthouse against investigating further or risking his own safety. Despite the fact that these three supposed murders are now 28 years old, sources acknowledge that these deaths are part of a pattern of other missing persons that residents of the area would rather be forgotten.
“I didn’t know going into this that this was going to be such a dangerous world we would enter,” says Rofé. “It seemed quirkier. A Bigfoot killed three guys on a weed farm? I knew that there was a darkness that was there of course, but I couldn’t have guessed just how dark it was going to get.”
Rofé recounted one night when Holthouse planned to meet a source without a cameraman. The meeting changed twice, first to a public place in the afternoon, then to 11 p.m. at a location that turned out to be closed. Even Holthouse was nervous at that point, then eight additional people unexpectedly arrived. One of them called yet another source, then offered to immediately drive Holthouse to meet them three hours away, in the middle of the woods. Meanwhile, Rofé was back in a hotel room, wide awake awaiting text updates from Holthouse that he was safe. Holthouse, perhaps wisely, declined the invitation.
“I’m a filmmaker, I’m a movie geek to the extreme,” says Rofé. “But suddenly you realize you’re not just making that doc series you were excited to make. There are things that are so real, and [the sources] don’t give a s-t that you are making your little doc series for Hulu. They don’t care about the themes you want to explore. Things could get really dicey, and you realize that quickly.”
Although the overall tone drips with paranoia, there are still a few light-hearted moments, thanks largely to interviews with Sasquatch enthusiasts who range from true believers to scholars who think of the beast as an allegory. Rofé himself refuses to comment on whether he believes Sasquatch exists, but regardless of his opinion on the myth, the experience of filming the docuseries changed him in at least one significant way.
“I don’t ever want to go camping again,” he says.