Skinwalker Ranch (2013)

A scientific research team investigates and documents the supernatural phenomena surrounding the disappearance of a cattle rancher's 10 year-old son. Inspired by true events that shocked the paranormal community around the world.

REVIEW: I always say in my reviews how much I love the Found Footage genre, in theory (I enjoy the concept immensely, but of course there are always some major stinkers like with every sub-genre). What I haven’t talked about though, but those who know me in real life already know quite well, is that I'm also obsessed with alien abduction and UFO movies (and the whole real-life phenomenon in general, really). There have been some great ones in my time – Fire in the Sky, Incident in Lake County, Dark Skies, and SyFy's 20 hour mini-series Taken are but a few examples of my favorites, however there have also been some major crap out there – The 4th Kind, The Forgotten, and Communion to name a few (I know that last one is a controversial opinion, but while I loved the book, I found the movie boring as shit).

Skinwalker Ranch is a real-life location I'm quite familiar with via my own researching and readings, but it's also been showcased on plenty of popular paranormal TV shows as well, so anybody who is even remotely interested in this topic probably already knows all about it, but for those who don't it's a cattle ranch and accompanying large property in Utah that seems to be the epicenter of just about every kind of supernatural activity you can think of: Ghosts and spirits, werewolves, Sasquatch, aliens and UFOs, chupacabras – you name it, this place has history with it, and a lot of it is not just word of mouth but there has been quite a lot of documented evidence for some of these things as well. I actually had no idea a movie was being made based around this location and it's weird events until last week, and I still had no idea it was due out this soon until I started seeing it listed on Itunes and other VOD services this morning, so since I love the topic and since Halloween is tomorrow, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity for a Halloween-themed night of watching what seemed to be a creepy found footage movie in Skinwalker Ranch and then posting up a review of it as a Halloween treat to all my readers!

Within the first several minutes I was surprised to see so many recognizable faces in this movie. Most of them are names you probably wouldn't know to hear them, but their faces you would automatically recognize, mostly as recurring guest spots from various TV shows. The one that stood out to me the most though was the inclusion of Erin Cahill, who I know best from the classic Time Force season of Power Rangers (one of the better seasons), as the Pink Ranger and leader of that season's team. Sadly, this kind of casting actually works against the movie. Being a Found Footage movie, it's entire gimmick rests on giving you the illusion that it's actual footage from a real event, played up even more by the unneeded opening text scrawl that explains how, where, and why this 'lost' footage was found. That entire illusion is totally undone by filling your cast with familiar faces that you can pinpoint from any number of popular TV shows and bit parts in famous movies. It also hurts that, Erin Cahill aside, the acting is surprisingly atrocious and comes across exactly as that – ACTING. Right off the bat, these two aspects completely take you out of the moment of pretty much any given scene and ruin the illusion that the movie sets out to attempt by being a Found Footage flick.

Unfortunately, even if those two aspects had been done right, the movie still wouldn't have been very good. Another 'Golden Rule' of Found Footage movies that Skinwalker Ranch not only breaks but utterly destroys, is that there's absolutely no subtlety, escalation or build-up to any of what happens here. By 15 minutes in they just dump you into the thick of the attempted-creepiness with no build-up or warning whatsoever, and thus it looses so much of its impact. And that seems to just be a hint of how this movie would continue to conduct itself during its entire runtime. There's a reason you wait all movie to see the shark in Jaws or the raptors in Jurassic Park. There's a reason that Paranormal Activity waits so long to actually start showing you some paranormal activity and then when it finally does, it's only little bits here and there, until it slowly builds up to an all-out assault on the senses for a total nerve-wracking final fifteen minutes. This movie has none of that build-up, it just drops you into the thick of it early-on and then kind of stays on that level for the next hour and a bit, without escalating the scares at all; This movie did not get the chance to be nearly as effective as it wanted to be or should have been by deciding to skip that slow build.

Another perfect example of this is during one scene you see a fully-formed ghostly figure of a boy walk by one of the cameras, with no heart-pounding build-up or subtlety about it whatsoever. In a Paranormal Activity movie you'd probably get a door slowly creaking open on its own in the background behind the character that they don't notice, and a slight shadow flicker that you may or may not have seen. Here, it's just: BAM, in your face full-bodied apparition Ghost Boy walking by the camera with no subtlety to be found. Now repeat that kind of approach for pretty much every 'scare' in the movie.

There are a few small aspects I enjoyed though, that I wish had been used in a better movie instead of wasted in this one. The research team that is the focus of the movie, I enjoyed the fact that it was made up of people from totally different professions and backgrounds, i.e. not just some ghost-hunting paranormal research group, but experts in their own various fields of study that come together to help figure out what's going on. In addition to that I also loved the inclusion of parts of this taking place during a thunder storm. It's only a small thing, but it goes a long way to adding an extra layer of atmosphere, and it's something that, oddly enough, is rarely incorporated by Found Footage movies, which considering how easy of a mood-setter thunderstorms are, you'd think they would be the go-to atmosphere device for cheap Found Footage flicks. There's also a short portion of the movie that centers around a werewolf-like beast creature, and I love me some werewolf action so suffice to say I enjoyed that part a bit (but even then, that portion was undone by the terrible cheap-looking cave system that was very obviously a quickly-made movie set and didn't look like real cave walls in any manner), and I am glad that it came back and played a part in the climax action.

Other then those I suppose the movie, on a whole, looked nice in terms of visual style and came across very polished (I'm sure it'll really pop nicely on BluRay) and it also did a good job of keeping the motion sickness effect in check, so if that kind of thing normally bothers you than you should be fine for that with this one for the most part.

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

I've seen a lot of my peers over the last day or so praising Skinwalker Ranch up and down the wazoo, and personally I just don't understand it at all. In my eyes it's nowhere near deserving of the praise I'm seeing everywhere for it, especially when these very same people have bashed Paranormal Activity and countless other Found Footage movies that I personally think are done way better than this.

If you want a Found Footage movie that actually works hard at trying to take you out of the proper mood that it needs you in, this is the one you should check out. Otherwise, I highly recommend you give Skinwalker Ranch a skip. If you want a creepy and atmospheric Found Footage movie that will actually have your nerves doing loop-de-loops, just shoot me a message and I can recommend a good few titles that are all way better than this giant heap of a disappointment.

2/10  rooms in the Psych Ward


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