Amerindie writer-director Christopher Munch’s career continues apace with “Letters From the Big Man,” surely the least excitable beauty-meets-Bigfoot film ever made. Curious tale of a wilderness surveyor’s close encounters with the fabled hairy enigma in coastal Oregon parklands offers a vague ecological message but little real drama or involvement. Results rate alongside the helmer’s intriguing lesser works (“Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day,” “Harry and Max”) rather than his best (“The Hours and Times,” “Sleepy Time Gal”) as a strikingly offbeat concept that holds interest without ever really going anywhere. Commercial prospects are cloudy.
Artist and former Forestry Service hydrologist Sarah (Lily Rabe) accepts a short-term contract to survey the health of a stream in a burn area — the better to shut herself off from a serious relationship just deserted for reasons unknown. But she doesn’t appear to enjoy much close human contact in general, not even with an old co-worker pal (Fiona Dourif) who meets her to hand off some equipment for her weeklong backcountry trek.
During that very solitary week, she notes signs she’s being followed. Upon running into backpacker Sean (Jason Butler Harner) she at first assumes he’s her “stalker” and is accordingly brusque, despite some mutual sparks. (It later turns out he’s a member of an environmental activist group.)
Once back in civilization — or at least a slightly less-isolated Forestry Service cabin — Sarah continues hearing disturbances and finding talismans left in stone or bark for her. She’s already experienced dreams and waking visions of this shadowing Sasquatch (6-foot-5 Isaac C. Singleton Jr. in Lee Romaire’s impressive ape makeup); now she begins seeing the creature in broad daylight (though the pic has made little prior effort to hide the hairy hulk from us).
Yet their increased mutual awareness doesn’t really change the film’s ambling narrative course. And a rather silly development suggesting the CIA wants to capture this “big man” for weapons research — it seems the creature has superpowers, including invisibility and telepathy — doesn’t really go anywhere, either.
“Letters” eschews suspense and the fantastical for a matter-of-fact approach that, as usual with Munch, maintains a neutral pace and observational tone. For the viewer, that tact is distinctive, frustrating and somewhat bewildering.
Rabe (who in certain shots bears startling resemblance to her recently deceased mother, Jill Clayburgh) and other thesps are fine. But having a lead character who mostly keeps her emotions tightly lidded doesn’t narrow the distance between audience and content; nor does the choice of using attractive traditional chamber airs played by Ensemble Galilei as infrequent musical backing. Other contributions are solid, notably Rob Sweeney’s handsome lensing of the gorgeous outdoor settings.