In a desire to add another werewolf movie to my repertoire, I flipped through the channels and resources available to me and eventually settled on a Canadian film called Skinwalkers. This 2007 film came out in that very special era of paranormal movies when the cool kids were trying to emulate Supernatural, that fresh, new groundbreaking show about sexy men who fight monsters. Remember those days, before that freaking show entered it's twelvth season? And boy howdy, does it's influence show itself off in this film right here. Let's see if we can catch up with Skinwalkers.
The film opens on the productions credits and the first little yellow flag pops up when the Lionsgate logo flashes across the screen. I only say YELLOW flag because hey, Lionsgate distributed Dredd as well. Then again, they also did the entire Saw franchise, so we're on very shaky ground here already. The narration starts up and some young chitlin' tells us that there are all sorts of scary thing out there. This is reenforced by a shot of a dude running through the woods, presumably away from one such scary thing. Alright, I can get into it. Guy fleeing through the woods, the corpses of his friends scattered all about the place, some unseen assailant hunting him through the woods? Okay, I can dig it. He's probably gonna get jumped by some out of focus shaggy creature and mauled to death and we're gonna listen to him getting chewed up while the titles appear. Hey it's a little predictable, but if the filmmakers are smart, they'll stick some kind of twist in there somewhere. You can't argue with the classics.
He finally hides behind a tree, panting heavily. This is horror movie code for “about to die”, so no real tension here. Sure enough he gets jumped by some big hairy monster and-
Wait. No. That's not a werewolf, that's a guy. I mean, yeah, werewolves are people too, but c'mon. We just started this movie and this opening entree just got clubbed over the head by some Woolie with a scar on his face and a really gross beard. You know, the kind of beard you grow when you can't actually grow a beard? My kind of beard?
Dead Meat here comes to, hung upside down and being interrogated by this biker gang that looks like it shops at Harrods. Some some lady Evil Sexys at him for a little bit in that way that I mentioned never convinces me back in Scarehouse. (Fuck this movie for ever making me think of that one again) and he says he ain't saying nothing about no kid. What, there's a kid involved? She says fine, and takes his gun away, noting that it's loaded with silver bullets as she empties it onto the ground. Okay, so they are the werewolves? She says that the silver bullets are cute. So what, do they affect them? What are the rules here? Then the full moon shows up at what is at best, late afternoon and turns red. And they all freak out about this for some reason, saying that the clock is ticking. Evil Girl shoots Dead Meat in the face with the gun she just unloaded and they all bust out of there.
Over by some cabin, a group of people that look like extras from Corner Gas are busy watching a home movie of a kid playing with a train set, all taking great solace in the fact that he is alive, well and hidden. Why? What's up with this kid? What sort of chosen one are we dealing with this time? The group are all happy about his safety and head downstairs for the night...strapping themselves into these big hanging leather-daddy harnesses. Dammit, this is the second movie I've watched that had an overarching theme of gimp suits. I swear this isn't on purpose. They lock eachother up, just as the power goes out upstairs. The guy whom I can only guess is the Dom in this polyamourous bondage relationship (Hey man, whatever floats your boat) heads upstairs to investigate and gets jumped by the Woolie upstairs. I think. The editing in this movie actually cuts back downstairs before the camera focuses on whatever is being revealed.
Then his body comes tumbling down the stairs and all of the bondage friends stat to freak out when this Sam Winchester looking dude strolls in with the rest of the Fashion Wolves. Helpless, the harnessed people won't tell him, and by extension the audience, anything about this magical mystery child, so he guts them all with his knife while accusing them of trying to play martyr. This man is named Varick, and yes, he's the second supernatural ringleader that I've met this month with that name. This guy doesn't even have the excuse of having been born in the 1400s or something. His name is just Varick. Also, it only takes a few lines to make it clear that this man was hired for his cheekbones alone. He just isn't that great of an actor, whispering and rasping his lines in an attempt to sound evil and persuasive, but coming off as a man needing a lozenge.
After slaughtering everyone downstairs, the bad guys manage to get a clue from the video tape of the child, even though the bondage enthusiasts masked hid identity well, even avoiding showing his face. The group heads out, noting that they have four days to find the boy.
Meanwhile, the boy in question is having some bad dreams, visions of a Michael Myers dude flashing through his head. He wakes up right into an asthma attack as his mother and...step dad (?) come in and help him through it. He notes that the moon is still red before going back to sleep, taking all of his secrets about why he's so important with him. Also, if this Blood Moon is actually going to last four full nights (Which also implies that the moon is going to be full for four full nights) wouldn't every astronomer in the world be absolutely shitting themselves? I know that I would. The colossal tidal and orbital upsets that this would lead to are staggering. Can you imagine a science-man wondering what the hell is going on and some janitor in the back just muttering “eh, probably some stupid werewolf prophecy or something. It'll clear up by Friday”.
The stepfather (?), Will is looking after this young boy. This boy of prophecy, this boy of destiny. There are those that call him...Tim. He dicks around in the shed while the dude who played Grace's awful husband in Stranger Things shows up outside, asking if everything is okay. This is uncle Jonas, and Rachael mentions that she is actually eager to leave this supportive network of friends and family behind and try to stand on her own now that she's a single mom. Seriously? The average single parent WISHES that they could count on so many people as you. Even the damn mailman shows up offering to hang out with Tim, and the Muffin Lady right behind him.
Muffin Lady looks after Tim for a while, noticing that he has started to carry a knife now, using it to fix his train set. He says his mom gave it to him when he found it, claiming that it belonged to his father. This might possibly be an interesting bit of character building or foreshadowing, but Tim BARELY has a presence or personality in this movie, just being passed from one guardian to the next like he's a Macguffin with a handle. That knife does not come up again in any meaningful way. Then some poorly-executed mid-2000's soul patch wanders in with a guy attached to it and starts putting the moves on muffin lady. Tim wanders into town with his Nana as Rachael tends to her job at the store and the bikers show up in town with their bad attitudes and leather jackets and cleavage and start looking for a fight.
Also, I know that Varick here is supposed to be all sexy with a jawline that could cut glass and all, but something about that stubble and the wideness of his face just makes him look like Nick Kroll from The League to me. Especially when he's wearing sunglasses like right now. Nana and Rachael both get a bad vibe, then some badly CGI'd eagel flies past them and Varick confronts Tim. Nana is clearly not having it and just whips a huge ass revolver out of her purse. Dang. Varick counters, and of course he wields a pair of Desert Eagles like the absolute tool that he is. I swear, that freaking gun gets so much coverage in movies and it's all because it just looks gigantic and sorta cool. Even Deadpool, a movie I love, is guilty of this, giving the titular character these two weapons in lieu of anything a trained mercenary would actually use. Hey Wade, I bet you wouldn't have to count out your shots if you carried weapons that could hold more than 7 bullets, 8 if you chamber a round. I suppose it's always just a matter of what looks good on camera, and a pair of huge, chrome plated handguns are certainly fun to look at, though I imagine that the recoil of firing just one of those things one handed would smack you in the face, never mind holding a five-pound hunk of metal at arm's length for an entire shootout.
And shootout they do, with the biker gang firing away at every pane of glass in sight while seemingly everyone in town returns fire, blasting at each other back and forth. Even the postman has a gun in his bag. I mean, I suppose this would be a neat action scene if I cared about any of these people, but I was promised werewolves, dammit. So far the best I've seen is one or two guys in need of a shave.
The thing about writing exposition into a story like this is that some information needs to be presented up front. We need to know who these people are and what they want. We need to know what their values are, why they are doing this and what the stakes are. And in a story with fantasy elements like this one (I'm sure they'll get here eventually), you need to give us the rules or at the very least show that audience what exactly is so special about these people. I'm not saying give us an opening title crawl or dump exposition on the audience from the very start, but you need to bleed a little more info into the film. So far all I've seen are two separate groups of people both centring around this one kid for some reason and then they get into a shooting match. There are no stakes here because we have no idea why this is happening.
Rachael hits the deck as the gunfight fills the street, meeting up with Nana as she reloads and grabbing Tim, being told to run. They do so as the locals clear out, leaving the leather-clad bad guys to walk the streets.
Police? Nowhere to be found.
The good guys all pile into an RV and escape, forced to leave Nana behind as she gets gunned down and blows up a gas station to cover their escape. Rachael clutches Tim when she sees that the back of the RV is filled with the same gimp suits we saw earlier, clearly having no damn clue what's going on. Back in the aftermath, Granny has tanked that bullet and staggers to her feet. Oddly, Varick seems willing to spare her until she shows them a little monster face, at which point he puts a bullet in her head. Back in the RV, I think I'm sort of getting a vague idea of what's going on. Rachael is told to stay in the back by Will, who locks himself in the driver's cabin. They bear witness to the rest of their friends and family securing themselves in their restraint suits, then one by one turn into snarling wolf beasts as the sun sets. It seems that Rachael and her son knew nothing about any of this. Tim actually approaches one of the animals and seems to be able to calm it down for just a second, before it snaps at them and prompts Will to let them into the cabin, explaining that they needed to see it for themselves. As the Bad, Leather-Wearing Wolves go through a similar transformation out in the woods, Will finally rattles off the rules for these werewolves (or rather “skinwalkers”) and Tim's significance:
Oh Jeez, I'm rambling again. Oh and Will is just some guy that helps them out, mentioning that “His people have been guiding them” And now I have even more questions. This is what happens when you wait until half an hour into your movie for someone to tell you what the heck is going on all at once. The gimps in the back all want to be free of their curse and have abstained from human flesh, but the Biker Wolves are totally down for murder and want to kill Tim before he can do whatever in three days time.
This is all interspersed with the Bad Wolves kicking in the door of some out-in-the -middle-of-nowhere bar and running rampant. I can say, the werewolves themselves don't look too bad, going for a Lawrence Talbot look with big hairy bodies and flat, snarling faces that look sufficiently monstrous. I dig the giant eyes they have. The skinwalker feeding frenzy quickly turns into a good ol' blood orgy (Another thing that keeps popping up in my movies) and the bad wolves bone until sunrise.
Back with the Bondage Wolves, Tim has passed out after another vision of the home invasion that haunts his dreams, and wakes up at the hospital. Everybody is on edge, Postman even pulling a gun on a poor nurse, laughing it off as “nerves”. I guess that's something you get used to working out in the country. Her day isn't going great, especially when another nurse finds her dead, just as Jonas spots Liam swinging around outside. Another shootout ensues through the hospital as the Leather Wolves try to reach Tim, but Postman manages to get them outside to safety, at the cost of his own life. Varick strolls out, holding muffin lady hostage. He and Jonas have a debate about the merits of werewolfiness, with Varick pointing out that Jonas is denying his true nature. This metahumanist argument fizzles when Jonas finally reveals the Big Twist of the movie with the line.
“Give me back your niece, for the sake of your son”
For this to work, then that means that this is the first time that Rachael actually got a good look at Varick. Things go south and Will guns the engine, getting everyone back inside as they drive off. Rachael is naturally a little pissed off that in addition to the boatload of werewolf information that she has been denied for so long, the group also never let her know about the leader of the bad guys being her damn husband Caleb, whom she thought was dead. Jonas states that this was done to “Protect her” but I sincerely doubt that. What, you aren't gonna tell her that the man who will one day come and try to kill your son will be wearing the face of his father? That would be a pretty crucial bit of information.
Back with the Biker Wolves, it seems that Varick didn't know about any of this either. I suppose it's just that special selective amnesia that makes people forget plot-relevant, shocking information but doesn't wipe out their toilet training. He's still committed to killing his son. But seriously, how was this a secret to Rachael? Did her husband just disappear once a month to parts unknown along with his entire family and their friends without arousing suspicion? How many times can you use “poker night went on a bit too long” as an excuse? Did Caleb not recognize his son's face? Why would he have a reason to believe Jonas? I suppose the story goes that their house was attacked in the nightmare Tim keeps having, then a wounded Caleb turned somehow and tasted human flesh, which seems to have turned him into a completely different person. And now he's running with these yahoos as their alpha, while they wonder about what to do with muffin lady, other than making her bake them a tray of delicious muffins of course.
There is a debate between Adam, his soul patch, and the rest of the Bondage wolves over what is to be done about Muffin Lady, his girlfriend. Jonas puts the matter to bed, stating that she is bait, but after another night of wolfiness, Soul Patch heads off to find her. I have no idea how he ends up finding her strung up against a cliff face so quickly, as tracking ability was never mentioned within the slate of werewolf powers, but he does indeed find his lady love and brings her back to camp, receiving a slap in the face from Jonas for leading the rest of the pack to their location. As the gang piles into the RV and hits the road, night begins to fall on the final day. Just a few more hours and the moon will strike Termina unless Link can awaken the four giants an-
Sorry, I just wish I was playing Majora's Mask right about now.
Muffin lady is acting a little more violent than usual as the gang straps each other into their harnesses for the night. She finally lashes out, snapping Will's neck in that way that bad movies think is even remotely possible and starts snarling about how good it feels. It seems that some time last night she tasted human flesh and has been turned into an Evil Werewolf. Soul Patch and Jonas are both bound against the wall, so they can only verbally plea with a feral Muffin Lady as she considers eating Will on the spot. Okay, I have to say that this is probably the best scene in the film. We know who all of these people, it has genuine tension and the added horror of seeing someone you love transform into a figurative monster while you are all on the verge of turning into literal monsters. Nick manages to get his gun out and Jonas begs him to shoot his daughter, that she is not the same person anymore and too dangerous to be left alive. Nick cannot and Muffin Lady (Who's name is Kat by the way) shoots him with his own weapon while Jonas struggles to get free, actually wriggling an arm out and making a grab for a weapon. At this point, I know that you need to stretch out tension, but there does not seem to be anything physically worming put of that thing or reaching over and unlatching himself like he is making a great show of being unable to do. Eventually however, Tim investigates from the front seat and tries to fend off Kat with a shotgun, until Jonas finally reaches his gun and shoots his daughter in the head. Harsh deal, man.
Just as soon as that crisis is dealt with, the RV smacks into Liam and flips off road. How was Liam involved in any of this? Was he magic? How do you train an eagle to kamikaze a cars windshield?
The Biker Wolves descend on the wreck, but the Bondage wolves have already holed up in a nearby factory. Jonas locks them both in a storage cage, giving them the key and a shotgun as he begins to turn. He makes them promise to shoot him if he threatens either of them. Jonas wolfs out and the trio of bad wolves stroll in, ready for the final showdown.
The Mark Strong one goes down first, getting swept off his feet by a trap that Jonas set and being dropped on his head. Then Varrick/Caleb comes face to face with Jonas and the two WolfFight, which is actually kinda neat. They toss each other around and try to outmaneuver their opponent, all while the Lady Wolf drops in on the humans. There is a brief scuffle where Tim wings her with the shotgun, then Rachael finishes the job, leaving Varrick and Jonas as the last wolves standing.
For some ungodly reason, Rachael leaves the relatively defensible shelter of the cage and confronts Varrick, begging him not to kill his son. There's a brief moment when it looks like he's considering it, but then just smacks her and looks ready to eat Tim until Jonas charges back in, dragging the fight up to the catwalk. Then Tim runs in, with not much of a plan. He just sort of yells at them both until Varrick looks up and Jonas manages to sucker punch him. Then Jonas looks ready to eat the kid until Rachael pumps him full of lead. So yeah, that kid pretty much got his uncle killed. Tim makes one last appeal to his father as he gets back up, even flashing the knife from the beginning of the movie. It looks like there might be an ounce of recognition in daddy's face, but nope. He just takes a bite out of Tim, just as the clock strikes midnight.
Just as that happens, Varrick is thrown back, tumbling to the floor below and leaving Rachael to tend to her son's massive shoulder bit wound. Or not, as the kid seems fine. They go down to inspect what just occurred and Caleb has transformed back into a human. Whatever happened caused the wolf to leave him and he is himself once more, looking up at his wife and son while flexing hard as he can.
The family checks into a motel with a shellshocked Caleb trailing behind them. Gosh, that must have been an awkward reunioun. “Hey honey, sorry about murdering all of your friends and support network, and it's totally my bad about all of that terror you lived through. Also, I had crazy forest sex with that girl you emptied that 12-gauge into, but you gotta understand, I was REALLY into eating people”.
They get a minor scare when it looks like The Grim Reaper himself is sneaking up on them, but they just end up menacing a trick-or-treater, realizing that it's Halloween. That scare was ungodly cheap, but it's still probably the most frightening part of the movie. The film ends with more narration, Tim explaining that because of some prophecised hocus-pocus, his blood now contains a cure for lycanthropy, which is how his father turned back after getting a mouthful of it. Realizing that goading werewolves into biting him isn't the best battle tactic, the family starts making “cure bullets” out of blood filled hollow point rounds just as the movie ends, with Julian Richings (Oh hey, nice to see that guy again) knocking at the door and asking to be cured, some butt-rock carrying us into the credits.
It bothers me that I have to add this film to the long list of sub-par Canadian Horror that I've already looked at this month. This film was doomed from the beginning with a badly paced script that takes too long to explain itself, then gets bogged down by a host of bad performances that sabotage what good ones there are to be found. I mentioned that this film tries to copy Supernatural a great deal, and that is obvious from the rural setting to the flannel n' denim that everybody is sporting, the guns being waved around and the prevalence of sexy stubble on everyone. The problem is that while this movie certainly copied the aesthetic well enough, it didn't quite nail the narrative tone that made the first few seasons so good. I have said in the past that Supernatural could be seen as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Dukes of Hazzard”. There is a certain gruff, blue collar charm about the show coupled with black comedy and a desire to explore the unknown that made the show so intriguing, before it jumped the rail into dead horse territory. This film does not really nail that, and while the creature effects by Stan Winston are quite good and the third act does manage to pick up a LITTLE slack, it's still nothing special.