The year 2007 was rather a light one for werewolf films (the only one I’ve missed the anniversary of is the YA adaptation Blood and Chocolate, which I’m not exactly heartbroken about), and it would be even lighter had the Canadian-made Skinwalkers, which premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, not taken so long to get a theatrical release. (Oddly, there’s no Canadian release date on record, but it did finally come out in the States on August 10, 2007.) Directed by the late Jim Isaac, whose previous genre effort was Jason X, Skinwalkers features decent-looking creature effects by Stan Winston Studio, but all too often they’re obscured by flash cuts and camera-speed trickery that was probably intended to make the action scenes seem more exciting, but all it really does is detract from them. Its effectiveness is also blunted by how much it was whittled down from its original 110-minute R-rated cut to the leaner (but definitely not meaner) 92-minute PG-13.
The plot is centered around a boy named Tim Talbot (I wonder which of the three credited screenwriters came up with that name) born of a human mother and a skinwalker (which is a fancy Navajo term for werewolf) father who is on the cusp of his thirteenth birthday, when legend says he will be able to break the curse of lycanthropy — that is if he lives that long. Seems one group of evil skinwalkers (led by Jason Behr’s Valek) has developed a taste for blood and wants to go on indulging their bestial natures, while another (led by Atom Egoyan regular Elias Koteas’s Jonas) seeks to protect the boy (Matthew Knight) and his skeptical mother Rachel (Rhona Mitra, who went on to play the vampire love interest in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) at all costs.
At one point they hit the road in a converted RV that is incredibly easy to spot once you know to look for it (and which reminded me a lot of the fortified vehicle in George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead), and eventually wind up at an abandoned factory (that favorite locale of action directors) where the survivors of both groups duke it out and occasionally shoot at each other. (Did I mention there’s a lot of gun play in this movie? No? Well, there is.) Then comes the most unintentionally amusing moment in the whole film, when the two main werewolves square off against one another and the filmmakers quickly flash on the actors’ faces so you know which one you’re supposed to be rooting for. I guess it didn’t hit them until they were in the editing room that guys in furry werewolf makeup tend to look somewhat similar.
Anyway, in addition to the distracting editing tricks, the film also features plenty of digital effects that don’t do a whole lot to advance the story. Sure, they can make the moon look red and show extreme close-ups of animalistic yellow eyes, but are they doing anything at all to make me believe in the reality of what’s happening onscreen? (Not that realism is necessarily the first order of business when one is making a werewolf movie, but still.) One of the things that I did take away from the film that showed the filmmakers had actually put some thought into their premise, though, was the design of the restraints that the good skinwalkers voluntarily put themselves in when they know the change is coming on. Looking at them, one can imagine how they would have been handed down and modified over the centuries. Of course, with this film’s paltry box office take (just over $1 million in the few weeks it was in U.S. theaters), it’s no surprise we never got a Skinwalkers 2: Rise of the Skinwalkers.