Director: Devin McGinn (and Steve Berg)
Screenplay: Adam Ohler
Starring: Jon Gries, Kyle Davis, Michael Black, Erin Cahill, Taylor Bateman
Running Time: 80 mins
BBFC Classification: 15
Inspired by supposedly true events – which can probably be taken with a pinch of salt – Skinwalkers follows a scientific research team as it investigates and documents the supernatural phenomena surrounding the disappearance of a cattle rancher’s ten year old son at the ‘Skinwalker Ranch’, in Utah, in 2010.
Essentially when young Cody Miller seems to vanish into thin air after he appears to be sucked into a bright flashing light in the sky during a family picnic in November 2010 his mother loses her mind, and ends up in permanent psychiatric care, while the father desperately does everything he can to find his son. Reaching the end of his tether, and desperate for answers, he invites a team of specialists into his home to try and figure out if there might be a connection between the regular UFO sightings in the region and the disappearance of his little boy.
The research team turn up and consists of a field scientist – who’s kind of the leader of the group, – an investigative journalist, a cameraman, a veterinarian (who’s there to examine any cattle mutilations), a computer nerd and an ex-military guy, for security. The rancher shows them around, they come across a dead deer, which died of natural causes, and then a storm brews up forcing them all inside to bicker for a while.
As the days pass, and the days turn into weeks, they start to experience some weird phenomena, including a nasty vibrating noise, which makes them all feel ill, more weird whale-like sounds (prompting the ex-military dude to pipe up and say: “How the fuck would a whale get up here?”), strange sightings of the little boy running through the kitchen and then disappearing, and then they spot gigantic canine footprints on the ranch, after hearing more strange noises in the night.
The researchers should have finally got the message to leave when an Indian shaman from the nearby reservation turns up to assist them by intoning various helpful Indian incantations as part of a blessing of the land, until he’s stopped by some sort of energy that forces him to collapse and struggle for breathe – although that could have been an asthma attack! Shortly after something ‘big’ is setting off the sensors scattered around the ranch and they find a dead calf that seems to have been killed by something ‘unnatural’.
After chasing the spirit boy through a wall and into a shed they find a few old cannisters containing footage from a previous research team that apparently came to the ranch back in the 1960s when the UFO sightings were at their most prevalent. When they finally get to review the footage it shows that the researchers had set up some sort of quarantine facility at the ranch. Later they find a missing girl, Rebecca, who seems to have strange powers and causes the nasty deaths of the researchers before turning into some sort of alien/demon crossbred affair.
Obviously things start going from bad to worse for the modern-day researchers and for the poor rancher also, who is desperate to find his son. In fact, it’s the father of the missing son (played well by Jon Gries (Taken)) who is the only character you really feel any true sympathy for. The researchers all seem to be general stereotypes, although the vet, Lisa, (played by Erin Cahill) is also fairly sympathetic. Overall the acting is pretty decent, although these two performances, for me, stood out from the crowd.
Skinwalkers is well shot and reasonably well edited, although, as with most found footage films, some of the photography is deliberately wonky to give it that added sense of realism. Unlike a lot of found footage films this one keeps its deliberately dodgy camerawork and editing to a minimum, which made for a pleasant change.
Even though I’m not really a fan of this particular subgenre I did enjoy the film and thought it had enough ‘moments’ to make it more memorable than most. These include a nice shot of what first appear to be a set of car headlights approaching in the distance only for the two lights to split up, hover briefly, before then rapidly disappearing into the night sky. There were also some nice jump scares and the strange wolf monster is quite nicely done. Plus there’s also a blink and you’ll miss it cameo by an actual really big spider in a loft, which made my skin crawl for an instant! But probably my favourite scene involves a dog in a stable block and something very nasty that’s barely visible… Definitely a WTF happened there scene!
Overall then, Skinwalkers is to be commended on its style, reasonable SFX (wisely mainly confined to the dark), nice pacing, and decent performances. Hence if you enjoy your nasty aliens-in-the-attic found footage films you’ll definitely get a blast out of this slice of homunculi hokum. Oh, and keep watching the final time-lapse bit of footage carefully, which is really quite creepy until the filmmakers spoil it by making it a bit too bloody obvious as to what’s actually happening. But don’t sit through the over-long credits, which I think are so slow in unfolding in order to pad out the overall run-time!
Skinwalkers has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Signature Entertainment. There were no special features on the disc.
Reviewer: Justin Richards