Skinwalkers (United States/Germany, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

No subset of the horror genre has created a higher percentage of dogs than the werewolf movie. Since The Wolf Man reached screens in 1941, it has become possible to count the number of good films about lycanthropy on the fingers of one hand. The problem with most werewolf movies isn't that they're derivative - that's pretty much a given when one considers the inherent limitations - but that they're badly written, badly acted, or just plain silly. Skinwalkers hits the trifecta: all three apply. It stands alongside this year's other werewolf disaster, Blood and Chocolate, in illustrating why the moon should set on the werewolf movie.

The underlying premise is not without promise. There are two kinds of werewolves. Members of one group (hereafter referred to as "the good guys") repress their desires and want only to be free of the curse that makes them change into beasts under the influence of the full moon. They have human helpers who fasten them in harnesses so they cannot injure others when they are bereft of reason. Members of the other group (hereafter referred to as "the bad guys") relish their ability to change. They embrace the bloodlust like a drug. It is an addiction and they are unwilling to give it up. Coming events put these two groups in direct conflict. A child of prophesy is approaching his 13th birthday. At that time, he will provide the path to salvation (for the good guys) or destruction (for the bad guys).

Timothy (Matthew Knight) is only a few days short of becoming a teenager when he discovers his heritage. His mother, Rachel (Rhona Mitra), is a human but his supposedly deceased father and his father's kin are werewolves. (Or, as they prefer to be known, "skinwalkers.") Timothy's uncle, Jonas (Elias Koteas), is his primary protector. For most of the film - until the pedestrian climax - they are on the run from Varek (Jason Behr) and his small band of motorcycle riding killers.

With the lone exception of Elias Koteas, who tries gamely to take his role seriously, the acting is embarrassing. It's hard to figure out which is worse: the horrible dialogue or the laughable manner in which it is delivered. Most of the actors appear to have been chosen more on the basis of looks than ability. Take Natassia Malthe, for example. She wears outfits that would make a dominatrix jealous and shows ample cleavage, but when she attempts to deliver a line or two from the script credited to James DeMonaco & Todd Harthan & James Roday, viewers will find it hard to suppress titters.

Despite being credited to Stan Winston, the creature effects look like the homemade efforts of Halloween werewolf costumes. The full-blown monsters look like a bizarre cross between an Ewok and an Orc. The pre-transformation humans look like they have inserted $2 store-bought plastic vampire fangs into their mouths and are in need of a few drops of Visine. When one considers how freaky and unsettling some screen werewolves have been (An American Werewolf in London, The Howling), this movie's versions make one wonder whether director James Isaac (Jason X) was given any budget.

The impact of the PG-13 rating is evident everywhere. The bad guys inflict PG-13 torture on their victims then have PG-13 sex. There's PG-13 cursing and PG-13 gore. Everything is carefully sanitized so that teenage boys can see this movie without having to worry about adult supervision. Never mind that it's pretty much impossible to tell a werewolf story with anything less aggressive than an R. I don't claim that the rating is the reason why Skinwalkers fails, but it certainly doesn't help. Shots of horrific wolf attacks and an unobscured view of Malthe's body would at least have made the film seem less juvenile, if no more intelligent. Put Skinwalkers alongside Blood and Chocolateand Cursed as examples of why werewolf movies are no longer screened for critics, and probably shouldn't be screened for anyone.

Skinwalkers (United States/Germany, 2006)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2007-08-10
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1