When Underworld hit theaters there was a world of controversy; a “World of Darkness” controversy, one might say. Role playing game publisher White Wolf decided the vampires vs. werewolves storyline was a little too close to the games they had been creating for a decade, and started to file charges. They should have waited until this year. Skinwalkers is just as close to the “World of Darkness” gaming world, with a slightly better storyline and, more importantly, more actual werewolves in their werewolf movie.
As treated by this movie, Skinwalkers is just a fancy Indian name for werewolves. You know, those humans who wolf-out at the full moon, feast on human flesh, are susceptive to silver bullets, etc? That’s what Skinwalkers is about. There are some skinwalkers who see the werewolf aspect as a curse. Others see it as a blessing. They like to fight a lot, mostly using guns but also with their own hands, claws, and teeth. Some prophecy said that one day the curse would come to an end, and that end would involve a thirteen-year-old boy and a red moon. Those who want the curse to come to an end have protected the boy; those who want to stay a werewolf forever have spent years hunting for this prophesied child. The movie opens with the first day of the red moon, which, conveniently enough, is exactly when the protectors screw up and the evil werewolves figure out where the boy is, causing the kid and his protectors to go on the run in what can best be described as a Road Warrior werewolf mesh at times.
Going into Skinwalkers, I was prepared to be disappointed. The trailers indicated this was a kind of werewolf movie but it made it look like the most animal transformation we would see would be some crummy teeth and maybe some contact lenses, mostly portrayed by biker and gang types. Additionally, the movie was being referred to as the werewolf movie without wolves in some interviews. I’m glad to say these were all mistaken inferences. The movie does have werewolves, humanoid in appearance, created by Stan Winston Studios. While it isn’t exactly groundbreaking in appearance, it is consistent with the feel of the rest of the movie.
What feeling is that, you ask? Well, my first impression of the picture, filled with muted color tones and hairy motorcycling bad guys, was that of a ‘70s horror flick. The score, which has a tendency to be a bit overbearing, added to that effect, as does poorly looped dialog which is seldom mixed well and frequently doesn’t mesh with the movement of lips or visible emotional performance going on up on the screen. Basically it felt like a low budget ‘70s horror flick, which the skinwalker makeup remains consistent with.
If that style doesn’t bother you, Skinwalkers is probably one of the best werewolf movies we’ve had in a while, which isn’t saying much considering the lack of competition. It explains enough to get going and then bulldozes through the story, frequently having to stop and give some explanation for what already happened. Within 10 minutes the bad skinwalkers know where the kid is. Within 20 the kid is on the run, etc. Along the way we find out what makes the difference between that perception of blessing and curse. The result is a movie that kind of feels like White Wolf's Werewolf game, with fighting clans of werewolves continually attempting to gain the upper hand.
None of the performances stand out as being exceptional. The best you really can hope for in a movie like this is “decent,” which is where most of the actors lie. It’s great to finally see a halfway decent movie for Sarah Carter, whose previous roles this year include National Lampoon’s Pledge This! and DoA: Dead or Alive. Yes, she’s cute, but she sure can’t pick the winning roles.
Don’t expect anything extraordinary from Skinwalkers, which at it’s best is mediocre. Being average, however, can be fun and, in all honesty, the movie as a whole wound up better than I expected, leaving me somewhat entertained for its running time. It can’t compete with classic werewolf movies but, in a time of lackluster PG-13 thrillers, Skinwalkers manages some fair thrills.