Wednesday, 27 January 2016


skinwalkers, also called skinwalker ranch, is a found footage film about a team of paranormal investigators who come to the aid of a farmer after his son goes missing. from the video footage shot at the time of the incident, it looks like the son may have been abducted by aliens.

the team set up multiple cameras around the farm and also have a cameraman tracking their every move. things escalate very quickly and they soon record footage of strange lights, visions of the missing boy, and a mysterious dog-like creature outside the house. the more they witness, the more the inexperienced team lose confidence and much of the drama of the film comes from them turning on each other. there’s an interesting question around their motives – are they there to help the farmer find his son or simply to film some aliens and find fame as a result? the question becomes academic when events escalate to the point that the team begin to fear for their safety.

what i liked about this film was that it included some really bizarre and unexpected elements. i was expecting footage of lights in the sky and maybe a few aliens, but the team also encounter ghosts, fight off a monster and explore hidden caves under the farm. it reminded me a little of quatermass and the pit, in that while the primary antagonist comes from outerspace it’s revealed through a series of creepy, more traditional horror archetypes. the dog-monster is particularly surprising and is handled so well it could almost be its own film. the cast do a nice job too, particularly jon gries as the grieving farmer.

where the film falls down is that it’s far too short, with a sixty-minute running time bolstered with ten minutes of end credits. it feels like things kick off before we really know what it is they’re trying to do, and the intensity and speed at which events escalate doesn’t give us time to really process what’s happening. in  addition, while the actors are fine there isn’t much to distinguish the characters from each other with two of them being almost identical. and yes, i would’ve liked another woman in the cast as the one they have feels a bit like a token gesture. the real issue though is that the character of the cameraman doesn’t come through at all, to the point where it barely qualifies as found footage at all sometimes. unlike traditional films, found footage movies want us to be aware of the camera; they want to draw attention to the fact that we're watching a film, because the camera should be as much of a character as the people being filmed. there’s a great sequence in noroi – the curse that shows this working, where the cameraman is left alone with one of the characters in a car and there’s an intimacy and vulnerability to it because it suddenly feels like we the audience are alone with them as well. there’s none of that in skinwalkers because most of the time it’s shot like a traditional film that just happens to be using single takes. to get found footage right, there has to be a kind of intentional messiness to the filming and that’s hard to pull off - too much and it’s annoying, but not enough and it makes you question the format.

overall, i’d still recommend this film. there’s enough going on here to make it stand out and the quatermass element does keep it compelling despite it’s failure to engage in other areas.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

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