Sunday, 8 June 2014

Skinwalker Ranch

I'm sick to death of the “found footage” genre. Sure, The Blair Witch Project did it perfectly in 1999, and 2007's Spanish horror film REC was pretty awesome, but within the past decade there have been a whole slew of crappy found footage films. Being as cynical as I am, I always assumed most found footage films were done so for two reasons; 1) Because it's cheaper just holding a hand-held camera than having a full camera rig set-up and 2) Because it hides shitty cinematography. I'm sure both of these reasons are true, but now and again there comes a found footage film that impresses and uses the genre to great effect. While Skinwalker Ranch may not be in The Blair Witch Project territory, it's certainly not as bad as it could have been.


Skinwalker Ranch follows an investigative team as they look into the disappearance of a rancher’s son at Skinwalker Ranch, Utah. Through interviewing the missing boys father and setting up various cameras throughout the ranch, the team aims to solve to mystery as to what happened to the boy. However, after a warning by a Native American man, a number of paranormal occurrences start cropping up on the ranch, and the true horror behind Skinwalker Ranch begins to become apparent. 

The story behind Skillwalker Ranch is based up various reports of paranormal sightings at the real life ranch of the same name. From sightings of UFO's, Bigfoot, ghostly orbs, strange animals and Poltergeist's, the legend of Skinwalker Ranch kicked off when journalist George Knapp reported on terrifying events that happened to a family who lived on the property in the 90's. The veracity behind any of these bizarre events isn't important, but one thing is; that the ranch itself and the supposed weird happenings that surround it are a great basis for a film! So, with a long laundry list of paranormal happenings to choose from, Skinwalker Ranch aims to condense it all into its short 86 minute running time.


Skinwalker Ranch is a mixed bag. On one hand it's a competent and often creepy film, while on the other it feels tired and overdone. What director Devin McGinn nailed here is the atmosphere. From the slow chilling build up to the scenes that show the audience the creepiness of the ranch, Skinwalker Ranch does a great job at leaving a lot to the imagination, rather than beating you over the head with the obvious stick. It's in the moments in which the father of the missing boy and the researchers themselves are confused and utterly terrified, that is when Skinwalker Ranch is at its most unsettling. During those scenes there's a great sense of helplessness, and this is only hit home by the largely impressive performances throughout. There are no big name actors here either, and that gives Skinwalker Ranch a very Blair Witch Project real-world feeling.

That said, Skinwalker Ranch isn't perfect, and its problems are apparent through being a found footage film. Don't get me wrong; it's not the worst use of the ever-popular genre. There are some fantastic scenes filmed on the researchers CCTV cameras here (for instance, there's a super creepy scene in which they film a visual echo of the ranchers son, running across the kitchen), but the video blog scenes and the way the camera keeps cutting out becomes rather tired. There are more scenes in Skinwalker Ranch where the digital cameras break and cut out right before we see the paranormal culprit, that it just comes across as a crutch for trying to build tension. A shame, as it happens so often that you end up expecting it just when the action gets going.


Overall Skinwalker Ranch is good, but not great. While it's not up there with the likes of The Blair Witch Project, it's not down in the gutter with the Paranormal Activity series. It's a mixed bag, but while in that mixed bag you'll find crappy jump scares and clichés, you'll also find some genuinely creepy moments, decent performances and a ballsy, fantastic ending.

Skinwalker Ranch may not be perfect, but will no doubt give you the creeps with 3/5.

[★★★☆☆]

Denis Murphy


Skinwalker Ranch at CeX



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