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Cannabis and cryptids in the California woods – ‘Sasquatch’

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True crime has become a thriving subgenre of programming across all media. Podcasts, TV shows, books, articles – we as a people love engaging with the deconstruction of heinous acts. What that says about us, well … your mileage may vary.

One of the hallmarks of true crime content is the idea that what we think we know can be upended at any point. The supposed truth at one point in the story can easily veer in an entirely new direction. It’s all about the deeper surprises dredged up once we delve beneath the surface of a story.

And when you throw Bigfoot into the mix, then all bets are off.

“Sasquatch” is a new entry into the true crime oeuvre, a three-episode docuseries on Hulu. Directed by Joshua Rofe, the series begins as an effort by one man to uncover the truth behind a decades-old murder whose initial explanation defied belief. But as he digs into the bizarre-on-its-face story, he begins to learn far more than he ever expected.

You’d be forgiven for expecting that this series is about, well, Sasquatch. And for stretches, it is. But what it’s truly about is the shadowy and sinister reality of the world of cannabis farming in Northern California, as well as the fact that the most frightening monsters of all are the ones that look just like us.

David Holthouse is a well-known investigative journalist, noted for his willingness to put himself into situations of extreme risk by going deep cover and infiltrating various secretive and violent organizations and ideological groups. He has a history of investing years of his life – and parts of his soul – in pursuit of a story. But there’s one story that he’s spent decades wondering about, a story from his younger days that he’s never been able to shake.

In the fall of 1993, Holthouse was working for a cannabis farmer in the wilderness of Mendocino County in California. One night, while he was in the cabin of the man who operated the farm, they were interrupted by a wild-eyed man who burst in babbling about a gruesome scene. Apparently, the man had stumbled upon the bodies of three men, torn apart as if by an animal. The plants were scattered, but still present, so it was pretty clearly not a rip-off. The terrified man arrived at the only answer that made sense to him, considering the circumstances.

Bigfoot did it.

As one might imagine, the experience stuck with Holthouse through the years until finally, a quarter-century after that fateful night, he undertook to go back to Mendocino in an effort to discover the truth behind that story. But in a world of shady operators and underground economics, not everyone is all that interested in having their business brought into the light.

“Sasquatch” follows Holthouse on his quest for truth. The initial episode illustrates the deep belief of many NorCal residents in the reality of Bigfoot; we meet a number of enthusiasts, hunters and true believers, all thoroughly invested in the idea that Sasquatch roams the heavily wooded mountains of the area. They share their insights and obsession freely with the camera, acknowledging the world’s disagreement with their beliefs.

But as Holthouse digs deeper, it becomes clear that there’s a good deal more to the story – and indeed to the region as a whole – than he initially understood. As the series progresses, we learn more about the realities of California pot farming. The image of free-love hippies out there growing weed has its roots in truth, but those days are long gone – these farmers might be listening to the Grateful Dead, but they’re also toting AR-15s, as one interviewee notes. Cannabis is big business in the region, and when you combine this kind of money with a governmental prohibition, then the appearance of criminal elements is inevitable.

Through it all, Holthouse pursues lead after lead, determined to get to the bottom of the story he heard so many years ago. He wants to know who was responsible for what happened, or at the very least, whether it ever actually happened at all.

“Sasquatch” isn’t really about Bigfoot, though the legendary beast serves as our entry point into the story. It’s about the malleability of truth and the dangers that can come with its pursuit, as well as the difficulty in untangling fact from fiction in a place where the sources of information have something to gain from obfuscation.

It’s a fascinating portrait of a world with which many of us may not be overly familiar. The cannabis farming scene is populated by burnouts and kooks, yes, but also by very dangerous people – some so dangerous that their names are redacted for fear of retaliatory action. The forests and fields of Northern California are riddled with the bodies of those who crossed the wrong people or were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And for every reported murder, there are likely many more people who simply disappeared, never to be seen again.

Holthouse is a compelling central figure, a man whose own tolerance for risk is established by his body of work. But even that boldness springs from a dark place, one we’re given glimpses of as the series progresses. It’s a peek at the demons that drive him, even as he searches for the demonss that haunt the hills of Mendocino County.

In the end, “Sasquatch” both is and is not about Bigfoot. It is both a quest to uncover the truth and a meditation on why the truth is so important to us in the first place; it feels particularly timely in this current climate of factual flexibility. It is compelling and powerful, shot through with charged emotions and moments of pitch-black humor. Whether or not Sasquatch is out there, there’s little doubt that monsters are real.

Last modified on Tuesday, 20 April 2021 12:49

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