Skinwalker Ranch. 2013. Dir. Devin McGinn & Co-directed by Steve Berg. Written by Adam Ohler.
Starring Taylor Bateman, Steve Berg, Michael Black, Erin Cahill, Carol Call, Kyle Davis, Mike Flynn, Jon Gries, Devin McGinn, and Michael Horse. Highland Film Group.
Rated R. 86 minutes.
If you haven’t heard of Skinwalker Ranch before, the actual location, it’s a large property of nearly 500-acres in the southeastern part of Utah. The ranch came to worldwide attention after appearing in the Salt Lake City news, as well as being covered in a series of articles by journalist George Knapp, which claimed a family bought the property and later experienced a various number of strange, unexplainable events ranging from chupacabra-like animals roaming the property to alien/UFO sightings, and much more. Of course, all that can be taken lightly because I certainly haven’t seen anything conclusive about this. I like to scour the internet late at night when I’m bored – topics usually include paranormal stuff and serial killers, et cetera – anything creepy. Even further, the movie Skinwalker Ranch is quite loosely based on the events talked about in reference to the actual location. Let’s just say… this is – inspired by certain supposedly true events.
A man named Hoyt (Jon Gries) buys the infamous ranch with great plans. Unfortunately, Hoyt’s life is soon thrown into disarray when his son suddenly disappears into thin air, right in front of him and his wife’s eyes. A team of researchers come in to investigate the paranormal phenomena happening around the ranch. They discover bumps in the night. Images of a small boy running through the kitchen at the exact same hour of the night, every single night. One evening, a massive wolf-like beast appears in the fields around the ranch, terrorizing everyone. It’s obvious Skinwalker Ranch is plagued by otherworldly things. The real turning point comes when a Native American man comes to bless the property in aid and ends up seemingly almost experiencing a heart attack – he tells them they’ve “got to get the fuck out of here“. From there, everything slowly gets more sinister. As you’d likely expect.
There isn’t a whole lot to love in Skinwalker Ranch honestly, but it’s not terrible. I opted to watch it twice. First time around I really enjoyed it because of the visual effects, which are certainly great. When I decided to review it, as I always do with a movie I haven’t seen too recently, I re-watched the film. Needless to say, I came out the second time realizing I didn’t really enjoy the film. It’s flashy and has a couple decent scares, or more so thrills, but overall nothing special.
The one truly creepy moment was the aforementioned scene involving the Native American gentleman who gathers Hoyt and the crew around a fire to help bless the ranch. Before his heart attack-like affliction, he seems to see something in the distance, as he is chanting a Native American sort of song. His eyes are wide and he stares off while still chanting. Then it strikes him. He gets out of there so quickly afterwards it’s really unsettling, and not to mention he tells them to “get the fuck out of there“. His demeanour goes from one end of the spectrum to another in a heartbeat. The actor really helped by doing a good job.
Most of what I didn’t enjoy about this film is that it uses some really tired and played out cliches. For instance, you get the typical child ghosts. And that would be fine – if you didn’t have them running through rooms in ghostly fashion, the obligatory creepy little girl ghost with her mouth hanging open and strange black vein-like striations going up her face. Those sort of things are really out of place most of the time. In fact, I’d go as far to say that those types of creepy kids are very much a significant trademark of Asian horror – they’ve got that area locked down, and well-done in many of those foreign movies. Here, it feels like they just couldn’t find any other way to make the kids creepy. It had to be the typical, run of the mill scary kid; like an archetype, a stamp they bring out for the crap horror movies.
What I did enjoy were the visual effects. Particularly, there’s a wolf-like creature that terrorizes the ranch on several occasions. Not only were the effects on the creature very good, they also worked to make things scary and tense. I liked one scene where the wolf shows up out of nowhere, and proceeds to push the car around with a few people inside – sort of reminded me of a good creature feature.
Also, there’s a scene with a large alien stalking through the house. The effects here were also nice. I liked the look of the alien. It was imposing and also not the typical ‘grey’ alien design; at least there was something fresh among a lot of the stale garbage in this film.
The only performance in this movie worth talking about is Jon Gries. Even then, there isn’t much to go on about other than he played his part well. If it weren’t for him, and his character as well, I probably would’ve lost interest a lot quicker than I did while re-watching this movie. He is a good character actor who I always enjoy seeing. Gries is good at playing scarred characters; whether it’s a person who has succumbed to their own demons, or one acted upon terribly by outside forces, he has a good range for these types of roles. It’s too bad he didn’t have any other good characters to bounce off – most of the others weren’t particularly unlikeable, they just weren’t exactly charismatic either. Gries was the only one who stood out in any way, shape, or form. And like I pointed out, there isn’t a whole lot for Gries to do other than act distraught; little else.
Overall I can give this a film 2 stars out of 5. Not a complete waste of time because I do like how they used the found footage sub-genre to make this feel like a real look into the actual Skinwalker Ranch location while also combining that style with the use of, often, heavy special effects. Whereas I enjoy something more like what As Above, So Below accomplished this year with their combination of found footage and effects, Skinwalker Ranch falls short because the story is too familiar. All the genre elements they try to force into the plot really only end up leaving the whole thing feeling off-balance. Furthermore, without a strong plot there’s really no room for any truly great characters, and lacking such characters there will always be missing great performances. Gries holds up his small end of the bargain, but other than him this film is pretty much a wash in terms of acting. The special effects are great at times and certainly provide some creepy, as well as thrilling moments. Regardless, the effects can’t hold the movie up for its entirety.
I wouldn’t rush to try and see this movie. If you’ve got time to kill and want to see a little horror movie with some paranormal/supernatural elements, then throw it on. But if you want a found footage movie with something more to offer, there are absolutely better ways to enjoy the sub-genre.