J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Skinwalker Ranch: Strange Things Happen in Utah

It is an area notorious for weird happenings, but this is northern Utah, so they can’t be blamed on drunken misperceptions.  In fact, a private paranormal research team could probably use a stiff shot when things start going bump in the night in Devin McGinn’s Skinwalker Ranch (trailer here), which launches on VOD and screens in select cities this Wednesday.

Some locals believe the home video purportedly showing a young boy whisked away by supernatural forces is legitimate, while some suspect it is a hoax concocted by his father. Desperate to find his son, distraught rancher Hoyt Miller welcomes a team of scientists from Modern Defense Enterprises and a journalist recruited to serve as a neutral observer, hoping they can supply some answers.  They wire the house and surrounding property with motion sensor cameras and settle in, but they will not have long to wait.  An unearthly high pitched tone rudely awakens them their first night in the field, with subsequent uncanny events preventing them from getting much sleep thereafter.

Although not entirely found footage, a great deal of Skinwalker unfolds from the perspective of the surveillance cameras.  By genre standards, McGinn shows admirable patience in the early going, nicely setting the scene and establishing the ranch’s atmospheric nooks and crannies.  For a while, it is surprisingly creepy, thanks to his skillful use of suggestion and mystery to build the tension.  Unfortunately, the conclusion seems rather rushed, but with horror movies, a good set-up often compensates for a weak ending.

Although the helmer directing himself is usually a red flag, McGinn is actually quite respectable as Cameron Murphy, the semi-skeptical journalist.  Jon Gries is also better than average as the poor, suffering Miller. Frankly, Skinwalker earns a recommendation just for casting the eternally cool Michael Horse (a cult favorite from Twin Peaks) as Ahote, a vaguely shaman-esque figure who offers the helpful advice to get the good golly out of there.

Skinwalker’s fusion of the horror and alien abduction genres is hardly original, but the execution exceeds expectations.  After all, for a low budget programmer, not bad is pretty good.  Recommended for a Halloween outing with like-minded viewers, Skinwalker Ranch screens this Wednesday (10/30), Devil’s Night, in theaters throughout Texas, Florida, and Alabama.

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