Bigfoot costume in the forest
Courtesy Gravitas Ventures

“Pictures or it didn’t happen.” Such was the First Law of Social Media, since back when “social media” meant sharing polaroids and comparing Glamour Shots. Things have changed, obvi. Nowadays, the rules are far more draconian, especially for the legions of influencers whose corporeal lives are so thoroughly entwined with their (and our) digital lives, the line between the two is all but nonexistent. Basically, we’ve gone from pictures-or-it-didn’t-happen to likes/shares/subscribers-or-you-don’t-exist.  

That’s the un (explicitly) stated premise question at the heart of Bad Weather Films’ Bigfoot Famous, as it follows the heroic mostly-offline journey of one Coley Withers (Steph Barkley, who also cowrote), erstwhile stream queen and onetime leader of the 2.5 million-followers-strong Coley Nation. 

Alas, Coley has lost both her followers and her raison d’être when we first meet her. Not even her boyfriend and Coley Nation costar Jericho Rosenberg (Sam Milman, who cowrote and codirected with Peter Vass) can raise Coley from her depression. According to the wildly successful vlogger Peeka Blu (Marlon Webb), she fell from favor because her audience outgrew “lame content,” including stunts like “dead body prank” and the “spicy nut challenge.” 

While nefarious influencers (that nobody ever defines the actual job description of influencer is telling) Hottie Toddy (blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Justin James Hughes) and Freddie Huff (Lauren Howard Hayes) fan rumors about who gave the former chlamydia, it’s clear that Coley’s basically the high school outcast, only now, the bullies include millions and millions of subscribers rather than a few lunch tables full of jock lemmings.

If that synopsis sounds like an Afterschool Special, be advised Bigfoot Famous is nothing of the kind. Both the script and the direction have the cast walking the finest line between camp, satire, and earnestness. There’s an edge here, so when a bit of sentimentality does creep in, it hits with maximum impact. Barkley wavers effectively from depressive, tantrum-throwing thirst trap to someone who could live in a forest for days unaided and unheralded. It’s a hero’s journey, any way you look at it. 

Bigfoot Famous
Dir. Sam Milman and Peter Vass, 89 min. Available on VOD now.

The balance between seeming genuine and sailing over the top is no easy thing, but the ensemble mostly gets it, anchored by Barkley and Milman. There’s a whole lotta over-the-top emoting going on, and it’s not always clear whether we’re supposed to be laughing at or with these characters, or perhaps pitying their delusional but endearingly unshakable belief that a Bigfoot sighting—Sasquatch, actually, as Bigfoot snobs will be quick to tell you—can solve all their financial and existential problems, including deep-seated emotional traumas that would take most so-called normal people years in therapy to unravel. 

The mother of Sasquatch expert Marty Meltzer (Chris Kleckner), for example, was killed by Sasquatch, leaving Marty and his sister Martha (Kelsey Gunn) in charge of the world’s largest Bigfoot emporium. 

Courtesy Gravitas Ventures

That said, (SPOILER ALERT, ALTHOUGH THIS HAPPENS IN ROUGHLY THE FIRST THIRD OF THE PLOT: If you don’t want to know a non-character-specific event that occurs, then stop reading now), if one’s primary concern in covering up a murder is how it will play on your vlog, etc., maybe it’s time to unplug for a while. Which is what happens as Coley and her Gen Y equivalent of a Wizard of Oz-type crew stride into the wilderness, looking for Sasquatch and transforming each other for the better (with one notable exception involving the aforementioned death) as they go. 

Besides Meltzer, Coley, and Jericho, the off-grid into-the-woods crew includes tracker/hunter expert Triple T (Anthony Ma, slithery and aggressively noisy as an all-but-mustache-twirling villain). Offline or no, once the body turns up in a furry costume somewhere downriver in a forest avidly patrolled by Joey Johnson (Vass), the Internet is quick to come to its own conclusions about who the murderer is. 

By the time Coley Withers drags herself with final girl determination out of the forest and back to the land of four bars and 5G, she fires up her screen, incredulity spreading over her bloodied face as she realizes she is hashtagging harder than she ever did when she was pulling pranks, like making Jericho believe she’d been murdered and making #shutupjericho her second most ubiquitous catchphrase. 

The plot plays out both in the plugged-in world, as it weighs in on the murder/Sasquatch sightings. Coley and Friends become targets of their online peers, most of whom thrive on chaos and clickbait.

The whole thing is ridiculously entertaining. It is also inarguably ridiculous. Except when you suddenly realize it’s actually not. I mean it does ask a rather cutting question: Do all these words I spent more than three tortured hours on even matter if nobody reads this? There’s a Waiting for Godot profundity to the whole thing, lurking under the slapstick. 

It’s also got a killer single over the final credits in Lily Kershaw’s “Fears Become Wishes.” Go like it.