As more and more independent filmmakers get a taste for “found footage” storytelling, we start to see several common components that always seem to be included, regardless of whether or not the finished film is any good. The half-predictable and half-novel Skinwalkers (aka Skinwalker Ranch), for example, employs several of the faux documentary tropes that are found in everything from the brilliant [REC] to the most tiresome of found footage indies. Logically, the end result is a brief and familiar – but also kinda creepy and crafty – little sci-fi/horror hybrid..
Here we have a team of pretty high-tech paranormal investigators who converge on a Utah farm where a young boy has (literally) vanished into thin air. (And on camera, of course.) The first half is basic character development, a few plot threads here and there, a handful of mysterious clues… basically, nothing all that scintillating. But given that Skinwalkers is more interested in extra-terrestrial developments than in your more standard occult material, there’s enough here to keep the viewer intrigued.

The cast is also pretty decent, although you probably won’t recognize anyone besides indie veteran Jon Gries and actor/director Devin McGinn, and it seems clear that screenwriter Adam Ohler is trying to avoid/subvert some of the most prevalent clichés of the subgenre. The irony here is that the viewers most likely to dig Skinwalkers are folks who’ve already seen a lot of low-budget flicks just like it, while those who don’t like this format will not be won over by the film. At any rate, it sort of feels like a longer and slightly drier rendition of the “alien invasion” mini-movie found inV/H/S/2.

If Skinwalkers wanders into familiar ground at the outset, it does start to get a bit more novel – not to mention creepier – once our investigators locate some “found footage” of their own (how very meta), and then the movie picks up steam as characters die horribly and some surprisingly solid special effects start making their way through all the low-tech security cameras. Skinwalkers won’t rank among the most original pieces of “handheld horror” cinema you’ve ever seen, but it does lead to a nice finale, and there are a few scattered moments here and there that illustrate why we like found footage horror films in the first place. Well, why some of us do.


Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)

Skinwalkers is available to stream or download here (UK only)