Wednesday, August 29, 2007


As I mentioned in my review of Katja von Garnier‘s Blood and Chocolate, compared to the vampire, the werewolf has always gotten the shorter end of the proverbial stick (and in the case of the Underworld films, both races get screwed).
The latest film to feature our lupine friends, Jim Isaac’s Skinwalkers, is a curious mix of win and loss.

The premise is simple: skinwalkers (werewolves to the midnight movie crowd) exist, and the race is split down the middle; there are those who think of the monthly change as a curse, while others—those addicted to the kill—relish it as a gift.
There is a prophecy (isn’t there always?) of a special child who will hold the destiny of all skinwalkers in his hands.
Rachel (Nip/Tuck’s Rhona Mitra) is the mother of Timothy (Matthew Knight; The Grudge 2), who happens to be the child in question. Ignorant of their pivotal roles in this primeval struggle, widowed Rachel and child are being cared for and sheltered by Rachel’s brother-in-law Jonas (Elias Koteas, seen recently in David Fincher’s Zodiac) and his extended family.
And when skinwalker baddie Varek (Roswell’s Jason Behr) and his hairy homeys track down the prophesied child, Rachel realizes she married into a whole heap of trouble.

First, the cons.
The depiction of both sides of the war is decidedly uneven: while there is some attempt at sketching out the relationships and personalities of the good skinwalkers, Varek and his crew are little more than loping, savage ciphers. Save for one, there is no indication of who these skinwalkers were before they became the cruel hunters they are now, no inkling of motivation other than that they’re addicted to blood. There really aren’t even any tiny quirks to make one stand out from the other.
That’s exacerbated by performances that are rather bland and one-note, sadly a shortcoming that extends even to the goodie skinwalker camp. The only actors who actually register are the always interesting Koteas, Shawn Roberts (from George Romero’s Land of the Dead and the upcoming Diary of the Dead) as Adam, and, to a limited extent, Knight.
Particularly disappointing on this front are Mitra, who doesn’t quite convince as the woman who’s been lied to for thirteen years but must now step up to fight for her son’s life, and Behr, whose Varek isn’t the intimidating baddie this film so desperately needs. Their characters are all surface, with no emotional depth to them, like skinwalkers hiding behind flimsy human facades.

The script (by James DeMonaco, Todd Harthan, and James Roday) doesn’t help matters any either.
It’s a slow starter, taking some twenty minutes to kick into gear, really seriously moving only when Nana (Barbara Gordon), bless her soul, pulls out her piece and starts to shoot up Main Street. Once the narrative’s engine revs up though, it quickly settles into a choppy ride, the film never really quite hitting a satisfying stride.
Additionally, the plot’s surprises aren’t really surprises at all. Skinwalkers is rather transparent; given how the relationships and conflicts are laid out, you can basically see how it’s all going to turn out. And it’s never a good thing, when you can anticipate the beats of a story. (It also makes the characters looks pretty stupid when the audience knows more than they do.)

But there are pros.
One: the creature design by Stan Winston Studios.
Winston, who’s given us everything from xenomorphs to Pumpkinhead to animatronic dinos, delivers lupine bipeds with unsettling facial features, something new to the werewolf catalogue.
Sure, the transformation scenes could have used more bite, but man, those beasties were sure walloped by the ugly stick.

And two: despite my less than enthusiastic response to the film, it does end on a note that actually makes me look forward to a sequel, if one is even on the cards. Skinwalkers wraps on a situation that opens the door to the possibility of a down-and-dirty genre actioneer, with loads of guns and ammo, fangs and fur.

In the end, Skinwalkers isn’t a total loss, and if the right people can come together to deliver a swift and savage sequel, then this flawed effort would not have been in vain.

Parting shot: Jim Isaac’s past directorial efforts include The Horror Show and Jason X, both dismal affairs. Skinwalkers is his best film by far.
He’s also done fx work on such David Cronenberg films as The Fly, Naked Lunch, and eXistenZ, all of which I love.
(It’s safe to say I’m a bigger fan of Jim Isaac the special effects guy, than I am of Jim Isaac the director…)
It’s also interesting to note that Isaac considers Cronenberg a mentor of sorts, and not only thanks him in Skinwalkers’ end credits, but actually cast him in a small role in Jason X.

(Original Skinwalkers OS courtesy of—the film’s release date was later moved to July; image courtesy of

1 comment:

Budjette said...

I thought this was based on the comic book with the same title. Mark lent me his copy. It was about an FBI agent investigating some deaths in an Indian reservation. Good story. Good art. Thought it would make for a good movie.