There’s nothing wrong with the dreadful Skinwalkers that couldn’t be fixed, which is why I hate it so much. I knew it was headed in the wrong direction when Cronenberg was no longer listed as an executive producer, and never did have faith that Jason Behr could project depth beyond his shaving commercial stubble to give us an evil werewolf worth fearing. There are times when being right is a great thing; this isn’t one of them.
The story is explained in fits and starts, though that’s characteristic of the entire film. Jason X director James Isaac can’t settle on one approach to the tale long enough to build any suspense or cohesion; the movie seems to need a guide the size of a state highway to build any sort of through line.
It’s one of those films you rewrite in your head as it’s rolling, because it always lets you get several steps ahead, and never offers a reveal or explanation captivating enough to make your own private edit seem weak by comparison.
The story concerns rival factions of Native American werewolves which call themselves skinwalkers. The name isn’t much discussed, nor is the idea of restraining a beast within a human skin deeply explored. Neither is any connection to actual Native American folklore offered, with the exception of a couple text crawl references, one Native actor (the very good Tom Jackson) and a few beaded necklaces.
So one skinwalker faction enjoys the pleasures of feeding on human flesh, while another restrains their bestial nature (literally strapping into leather nightgowns each evening) in order to forestall the werewolf’s consuming bloodlust. A prophecy tells of a young boy who, if he lives to turn 13, will be the key to breaking the lupine curse. A small group of blood-hungry skinwalkers tracks him down, leading to a run and gun collection of action setpieces.
Jason Behr leads the bad guys. He’s got the surfeit of personality among them, which is like saying a lump of asphalt has more value than the other shit stuck to your shoe. Elektra‘s Natassia Malthe looks great with her breasts loosely gathered into a senseless bikini top, but her love scene with Behr looks like each actor was captured in a separate Pilates class and overlaid on one another. There’s a lot of sweat and nothing else.
But actors are not this movie’s strong suit. Rhona Mitra is a cipher as the young boy’s mother. Kim Coates hides behind glasses and hair extensions like an uninvited guest trying not to be noticed; he’s got one lonely scene that shows the barest glimmer of personality. Shawn Roberts acts every emotion through a grimace that says ‘please remove my wisdom teeth’, thereby eliciting the only fear in the film. If only it wasn’t the fear of Diary Of The Dead being truly awful, as Roberts heads up the cast. His performance is as magnetic as the armpit of a worn-out Baron Karza toy.
As the leader of the skinwalkers attempting to protect the boy in order to be free of the curse. Elias Koteas, at least, is reliable like an old tractor. If he doesn’t act circles around the rest of the cast, he does manage to make me care in a scene or two. (Since David Fincher has discovered him, perhaps this represents the tail end of his work for hire streak.)
Sarah Carter surprised me by offering more than the sweet side of the flick’s eye candy. She and Koteas actually power the one sequence in the film that got me to wake up a little. It’s a father-daughter confrontation that hints at what this movie might have become. Carter becomes both feral and sympathetic; I enjoyed watching her.
Once the film moved on to more gunplay and bare bones action, I realized that we’d been totally gypped. Stripped down, this story is about betrayal of blood and humanity. Inside Skinwalkers is a tale of morality and familial terror that could have qualified as an actual horror movie. By simplifying and refocusing a few scenes and rewriting others, this might have been memorable, or at least worthwhile.
But simplicity is something the movie avoids at every turn, and attempts to puff up the movie hit it hard. Instead of focusing on the genuine conflict latent in the story we go to big, dumb gunfights with scowling, superficial villains dressed in cast-off biker outfits. Remember how you felt trying to parallel park the first time? That’s the level of confidence on display when the two werewolf factions have their first violent encounter. (In an inexplicably empty town center, no less.) Things never get any better.
You’d expect a werewolf tale to offer at least a handful of fun transformation and fight sequences, but even those are MIA. The Geico cavemen are more impressive than these lycanthropes. Any gore has been stripped away leaving the battles as eviscerated, declawed blurs. I can’t recall a single momentous moment of supernatural glee. This is a boring, irritating mess. Cursed had better werewolf magic. Cursed!
2 out of 10