SKINWALKERS (2007)

Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on August 9, 2007, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


The opening titles and narration of Skinwalkers establish that there are two tribes of lycanthropic half-humans living among us: those who embrace their inner animal and revel in their wild streak, and others who seek to repress and tame the beast. The movie seems to have been made by and for the latter; in terms of both narrative and action, there’s a sense throughout of punches being pulled. That could well have resulted from the desire to put the film out there with a PG-13 rating; certain violent payoff shots seem missing, an evidently once-hot sex scene has been reduced to a series of dissolves and flashes and even a few crunchy impact audio FX appear to have been muted on the soundtrack. Ironic, considering that distributors Lionsgate and After Dark Films were last seen pushing the torture envelope and pissing off the MPAA with Captivity.

There are some interesting ideas sprinkled through the script by James DeMonaco, Todd Harthan and James Roday, such as the way the “good” werewolves deal with their monthly transformations: They strap themselves into leather harnesses in basements or the transportation compartments of trucks, and violently, vainly thrash their way through full-moon periods. Evidently they’re very good at keeping this activity secret, because as the film opens, human woman Rachel (Rhona Mitra) has apparently been married to a Skinwalker, borne a child with him and lived among his extended family for over a decade with no clue about their true nature. But she’s about to get a wakeup call, as her son Timothy (Matthew Knight) is close to his 13th birthday, and an ancient prophecy has foretold that when a half-human, half-Skinwalker child reaches that age…well, something of great importance is going to happen. Something that Varek (Jason Behr) and his band of motorcycle-riding wolfmen (plus one woman, sexy Natassia Malthe) are anxious to put a stop to. Thus they’re soon arriving at Rachel and co.’s door, guns blazing.

Yes, this is another ostensible monster movie in which the battling critters often settle their differences the human way, with firearms rather than fangs and claws. This makes a little more sense here than in a film like Underworld since it takes place the real world, rather than a fantasy realm, and due to the slight Western vibe adopted by director Jim Isaac. But considering that Stan Winston was one of Skinwalkers’ producers, you’d think he would have shaped the film as a stronger showcase for his shop’s FX. Instead, there are only a couple of major wolf-outs before the climax, when everybody sprouts snouts for the all-out battle royal. (Another disappointment is that this action takes place in yet another deserted industrial building, of the type seen way too often in the finales of films of this kind. Wouldn’t it be more fun to stage the mayhem in a shopping mall or a restaurant or something?)

Isaac keeps things moving at a decent pace, though the narrative development is too cut-and-dried to work up real tension. The most compelling part of the movie is a side plot involving one of Rachel’s group who gets captured by the baddies, and returns with a new hunger for people; it’s another of the film’s unique tropes that once a Skinwalker has tasted the blood of a human, he or she becomes irresistibly turned to the vicious side. Here and elsewhere, the capable cast (also including Elias Koteas, Shawn Roberts, Sarah Carter and Canadian veteran Kim Coates) all do what’s expected of them with a certain amount of panache, though no one really rises above the overall tepid nature of the material.

Perhaps one of Skinwalkers’ most significant stumbling blocks is inadvertently pointed up by the poster tagline, “For them to live, we must die.” Despite that ominous promise, there’s rarely a sense that anyone outside the main characters’ circles are in danger; only a brief massacre at a redneck bar (another too-familiar setting) suggests the menace that Varek and his followers pose to the world at large. And if the only thing a movie’s werewolves are threatening are other werewolves, how can the rest of us humans in the audience truly relate?

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