It's time to place a moratorium on 'modernizing' the classic movie monsters. If Anne Rice has taught us anything - and when it comes to actual prose, it's VERY little indeed - it's that bringing your supernatural baddie into the 21st Century is problematic at best, a crime against all creature features at its worst. Besides, when it comes right down to it, no one really has anything new or unique to say - and simply making your fiends fey Eurotrash shadows of their former ferocious shelves definitely doesn't apply. Prior to taking potshots at the vampire once again (with the lame 30 Days of Night), cinema stunk up the werewolf by turning it into a proto-PC shapeshifter in touch with its Navajo side. Some may think Skinwalkers a decent update on the lumbering lycanthrope myth. Turns out, it's as frightening as a rabid woodchuck, and twice as brainless.
In the ages old war between 'good' werewolves and 'angry, disgruntled, gone Goth' lycanthropes, there is a prophecy - on his 13th birthday, a human half-breed (half wolfboy, half plot device) will save the ancient species. Exactly how, no one knows, but they're all willing to scrap over the future fate of little Timmy. On the side of right are Jonas, his daughter Katherine, and her fiancé Will. On the side of scuzz are Varek, his invariably hot sideslut Sonja, and a psycho slayer Zo. Timmy's Mom can't quite figure out why her son has any shapeshifter in him at all - all she remembers is a horrible night, years before, when her husband was killed by a band of mangy monsters...or was he? Seems there may be a deeper connection between both sides than anyone first imagined. And to make matters worse, said bloodline is destined to destroy, as well as determine, the efforts on both sides. Right.
You can tell from the opening moments of Skinwalkers that director James Isaacs thought he was making some kind of post-modern masterpiece. While his previous efforts behind the lens (1989's interesting The Horror Show, the jumbled Jason X) have shown promise, he's not really the evocative epic sort of guy. Instead, he seems like a journeyman jumping into filmmaking frays he's not quite capable of maneuvering within. Trying to turn the plight of the werewolf into a cursed vs. craven battle of wills may seem like a saleable ideal, but in the hands of Kill Point collaborators James DeMonaco and Todd Harthan (with additional scribbling from actor James Roday), it becomes an ersatz example of mid life crisis Stephen King. Imposing a stilted Near Dark like outlaw quality to what is basically a Hatfields vs. macabre McCoys dynamic, the coincidences percolate along on furrowed brows, inconsistent standoffs, and one apocalyptic pronouncement after the other. Suffering from that most nauseating of cinematic stumbling blocks - a main character with a laughable name (Timmy) that gets repeated over and over - the end result is like one of the many corpses seen onscreen: lifeless and inert.
Seeing Stan Winston's name on this indefensible drek is the last straw, especially after experiencing the shoddy monster make-up used to realize the phony baloney beasts. Half the time, you feel like you're watching an episode of Beauty and the Beast where Vincent's relatives decided to emerge topside and kick some ass. Alas, if only this carbon copy John Carpenter was that interesting. It makes Vampires: Los Muertos look like Nosfer-friggin-atu. Part of the problem is the premise. Turns out, werewolves who never kill or drink human blood can more or less cope with being part vulpine. They have to go through elaborate bondage rituals to keep their nocturnal transgressions at bay, but for the most part, they are contributing members of society. Unfortunately, once they get a taste of that ever popular gamy human forcemeat, the wolf goes wacko. It becomes the supernatural version of a junkie, requiring constant people transfusions or...well, that's not really explained. Apparently, even with the demonic gift of shapeshifting at your disposal, the pain of withdrawal is a bitch. Had the story been more potent - perhaps focusing on something more cosmic or universal - we'd enjoy the ride. But since the entire battle comes down to those who whine vs. those who dine...on people...it's hard to choose sides. Neither group is that interesting.
The other big issue, especially for fright fans, is the stunning lack of gore. Before it hit theaters this past August, the 2006 release was reedited and trimmed from a genre mandated R to a mainstream friendly PG-13. This means that all kills are rendered redless, all wolf on wolf butt whooping free from that annoying (but enjoyable) arterial spray. You can see the actual cuts if you watch carefully, excessive werewolf teeth sinking into a neck, only to have the next shot stumble onto an image of that ever present red mooned sky. If you're going to give us hackneyed horror clichés buttressed by hand wringing supernatural angst, you better bring on the blood. But just like everything else that distresses the current pro-fear phase in film, Skinwalkers wants to have it every which way but good. It wants myth and realism, authenticity and (very minimal) artistry. It hopes that the combination will make it stand out from all the other low rent monster movies ponging up the Cineplex. All it does do, however, is prove how bereft of ideas the entire process really is. Skinwalkers is not fun, it's not frightening, and it's definitely not as ferocious as the legacy of the werewolf would have you believe. Instead, it aims for the somewhere beyond the post-modern, and misses the mark.
Looking pretty good for a decidedly low budget effort, Lionsgate delivers Skinwalkers in a nicely atmospheric 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image. The colors are muted, but nicely realized, and the overall look is effective in evoking isolation and loneliness. Too bad all the film itself suggests is fits of inappropriate laughter.
While both the Dolby Digital DTS 6.1 and 5.1 Surround EX mixes aim for a moody and immersive aural experience, the sonic reality is slightly more muted. The music gives the channels a decent challenge, and a last act battle in a deserted warehouse offers some back speaker sizzle. But overall, the ambience is average, never really involving us in what is an already disconnected narrative.
Lionsgate obviously has some faith in this film - either that, or they want as much marketability as possible come consumer attention time. As part of the DVD's added content, we get a decent audio commentary (Isaac accepts the limits of his movie, but still sees more in it than we do), a collection of deleted scenes (a few of which clarify some ongoing character questions) and a Making-of featurette. From the praise the F/X get, you'd swear this was the second coming of Rob Bottin. Sadly, the only 'howling' you'll be doing is at the lame storyline. Finally, the CGI used gets a before/after, pre-visualization/final digital version comparison, and there's the original theatrical trailer. Again, this is a decent assortment of bonus material, especially when you consider the number of horror classics that wind up on the format unadorned.
There will be fans who find everything about Skinwalkers utterly fascinating. They will see the struggle between man and monster as a parable for our current cultural paradigm and falsely praise the heck out of this hooey. Individuals schooled in the way of b-movie schlock however will recognize the foul stench of stupidity like Princess Leia's olfactory assessment of Governor Tarkin. While its lofty ambitions (and utter failure to achieve same) demand a score of Skip It, the milk of monster movie madness suggests some in the demographic will actually enjoy this junk. Therefore, the retail reserving Rent It becomes the final evaluation. There's a maxim that states that one needs to master the rules before they can break/redefine/ignore them. Perhaps those who long to reinvent the standard scary movie should figure out how to handle the classics before deconstructing them. Skinwalkers is not inventive or novel. It's just boring.