Skinwalkers (2007)

Skinwalkers reviewStarring Jason Behr, Rhona Mitra, Elias Koteas, Natassia Malthe, Kim Coates, Sarah Carter, Matthew Knight

Directed by James Isaac

Skinwalkers is quite possibly the dumbest movie of the year that wasn’t meant to be a dumb comedy to begin with. I don’t mean dumb in a Number 23, I Know Who Killed Me, Perfect Stranger astoundingly dumb plot twists sort of way; I’m talking about plain ol’ dumber than a bag of hammers sort of dumb. Dumb on every ill-conceived, poorly thought out level. Dumb in an I cannot believe this was not released by Trimark or Dimension back in the early 1990’s when they were unloading movies like Warlock: The Armageddon and Children of the Corn 2: The Final Sacrifice into theaters. That sort of dumb.

Skinwalkers would be a surefire candidate for worst of the year if it weren’t so howlingly bad – no pun intended. Ah, who am I kidding? The pun was clearly intended.

For starters, only two extended sequences, one of which is the finale, is all there is of the werewolves on the screen, at least in a non-harnessed fashion. By that I mean all the members of the good skinwalkers clan harness themselves into these restraints so that they don’t harm anyone when it comes time to transform. The film even cheats us out of those transformation scenes too. Not that these werewolves are much to get excited about anyway since they look more like dog-faced versions of the Geico cavemen. These are amongst the least impressive Stan Winston FX creations to come along in a long, long time.

The makers of Skinwalkers have decided that people watching a werewolf movie are really more interested in seeing poorly staged gun battles that look like they came straight out of the worst episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger”. These are the sorts of shootouts where nobody can hit the broadside of a barn and a gun battle can break out in the middle of a busy hospital without any interference on the part of security guards or police. Oh sure, there are a few clumsy attempts at generating jump scares along the way, none of which work, but mostly this is a chase flick between rival werewolf factions that spend the majority of the time in their human forms running away from or shooting at one another.

The unimaginative script boasts what is unquestionably the worst written dialogue of the year – at least until D-War opens (from what I hear). Purely perfunctory, embarrassingly so, clearly designed solely to advance the plot, every word spoken is devoid of anything resembling personality or humanity. We’ve no empathy for the good guys, no reason to fear the villains, no reason to care even when it tries to introduce a surprise plot twist or two. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen a movie where the only credits listed after the opening title were the names of the three screenwriters. It’s almost as if everyone else involved with the film’s making wanted to let us know in advance whom we should really be blaming for how bad it all turned out.

Skinwalkers reviewThe movie kicks off with the definition of “Yee Nadlooshi”, or something like that – the actual Native American term for what we in the English language call “skinwalkers”, which is itself another Native American term for werewolves. If only they’d had the guts to call this movie “Yee Nadlooshis”. It’s a very silly term and this is, after all, a very silly movie.

That text is then followed up with more text; some skinwalkers seek a cure for their curse and others like being monsters. Legend says that a half-breed child upon his 13th birthday will bring about a cure for lycanthropy. Some see him as a blessing, while others will seek to kill him. That’s pretty much the film’s entire plot encapsulated.

We’re then treated to a young Native American male being chased through the woods by some skinwalkers in their human form. They capture and briefly torture him, demanding he reveal the location of the boy. The moon then appears in the sky glowing red (as it does for the next four nights). Keep in mind it was broad daylight just a moment earlier. He tells them that this is a sign that the prophecy has begun. They kill him. These evil skinwalkers are never seen or heard from again. The movie then more or less repeats the scene with different victims in a different scenario being tortured by the actual villains of the movie with roughly the same result. I’d say this pretty much sets the tone for the ineptitude to come. Well, this and the villains’ heightened sense of knowing exactly when to cut the power to a building.

It’s kind of hard to blame the actors for their performances in a movie with a script this pathetic, but in Jason Behr’s case I’ll make an exception. Pretty boy good looks and blank slate charisma, he’s like the second coming of Antonio Sabato, Jr. If his beard were any fuller, he’d be a dead ringer for the bad guy from Blood & Chocolate, only even less threatening. Seeing Behr riding his Harley with that half-grown beard, flowing locks of hair, wearing shades and a long coat, I think someone told him by mistake that he was actually going to be starring in a big screen version of that Lorenzo Lamas TV series “Renegade”.

As for his pack, the only thing I can say about Natassia Malthe is that she has great abs and nice cleavage. She’s just there for eye candy and nothing else. There’s even less to Kim Coates’ character aside from him looking like a leftover hippie. Rounding out the bunch is the black guy who I don’t think had a single line of dialogue, not that it matters anyway since he’s the first villain to die.

In fact, there’s a black guy on the side of the good skinwalkers, and he too is amongst the first to perish in their group. Coincidence?

Skinwalkers reviewRhona Mitra (soon to be seen in Neil Marshall’s Doomsday) has the thankless role of playing single mother to Timothy, the sickly boy with a disturbing resemblance to a young Peter Brady who prophecy has foretold will bring about the end of lycanthropy upon his 13th birthday in four days. Of course, momma Mitra doesn’t know about any of this or that every member of her late husband’s family is a werewolf, along with seemingly everyone else in the small isolated town they reside in, all of whom have been working together since Timothy’s birth to keep him safe from harm. Well, maybe not everyone seeing as how nearly the entire populace of this town vanishes the second the werewolves on wheels roll into town looking for the boy.

I knew this film was truly special in a Ralph Wiggum sort of way the moment grandma locked eyes with Jason Behr and promptly whipped out a .357 Magnum from her purse to go all Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. A spaghetti western shootout erupts with the werebikers, granny and a few other characters that all come out guns a blazin’, none of whom manage to shoot Behr even though his character just stands in one spot wide open as he does his worst Chow Yun Fat impression. So laughably staged is this gun battle I was beginning to wonder if the projectionist hadn’t screwed up and accidentally slipped in a reel from Hot Fuzz by mistake.

Mom, Timothy, Uncle Jonas (Elias Koteas, perhaps the only actor here capable of mustering any dignity amid all the dreck), his daughter Cat (Sarah Carter, a close second), her boyfriend Adam, the black guy soon to depart the earth, and the obligatory wise old Native American make a run for it inside this very old beat-up RV that looks like it had been buried in a mudslide for a couple decades. While Rhona Mitra searches for her inner Sarah Connor, the good skinwalkers all band together to keep Timothy alive to see his 13th birthday, when at exactly the stroke of midnight the prophecy will be fulfilled. You’ve got to love how ancient movie prophecies such as this are willing to conform to our modern concept of time zones.

The rest of the movie is just one long chase. The good guys have to stop somewhere (a hospital, a cave, etc.) and the bad guys catch up. The process continues until it reaches the finale set inside an abandoned steel mill on a dark night during a thunderstorm. Welcome to the bottom of the creative barrel, folks.

There’s been a lot of bitching and moaning about Skinwalkers having been cut down to achieve a PG-13 rating. The only time I got a sense of this was during a scene so random it felt like a reshoot inserted later on to give the film a few extra kills; the werebikers decide to transform and slaughter a redneck bar where a waitress is just seconds away from being raped on the pool table. There must be a sort of supernatural bylaw in movies these days that states the villains have to think to themselves, “I’ve got supernatural powers and I like to kill people; I’m going to go find me a redneck bar and lay waste to everyone.”

That killing spree is spliced with footage of a Behr-Malthe sex scene that’s been edited down to point of there not even seeming to be any reason to include any footage of it at all.

There’s also a mano-a-mano wolfman battle during the finale that may also have been the victim of the editing room, or it could just have been another case of a director using that hyper editing/shaky cam technique that everyone seems to use these days. Who can really tell anymore?

Skinwalkers reviewBut let me assure everyone that no amount of sex or gore would have made Skinwalkers a better film. Even explicit girl-on-girl action between Rhona Mitra and Natassia Malthe could not have salvaged this schlock.

And schlock this most definitely is, sometimes entertainingly so. The laugh out loud stupid highlight of the film for me involved this hawk the werebikers have some sort of (never explained) supernatural power over and use to guide them to Timothy’s whereabouts. I almost busted a gut when that damn bird suddenly up and suicide dive-bombed the windshield of the RV. Talk about inexplicable moments.

Not to be outdone, their plan for getting to Timothy inside a hospital saw Natassia Malthe pretend to be a traffic accident victim to get admitted as a patient so that she could kill a nurse, steal her uniform, walk into Timothy’s hospital room, and then jump on his bed and attempt to strangle him to death with her bare hands. That’s some sound strategy there.

The film’s idiotic ending not only sets up a potential sequel (Direct-to-DVD franchise, here we come!), the filmmakers opted to end it with an insipid gag set on Halloween night that only succeeded in truly putting the exclamation point of idiocy on this dumb movie. They really should have ended it on Thanksgiving instead seeing as how Skinwalkers is one hell of a turkey.

Looking back I’m now convinced that the very existence of this film at all has got to be in some way part of a vast conspiracy concocted by Len Wiseman. Anytime anyone starts ripping on his Underworld movies now, defenders of that franchise can respond, “Oh, yeah? Well, have you seen Skinwalkers?”

1 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit