Now in theaters
Jason Behr as Varek
Elias Koteas as Jonas
Rhona Mitra as Rachel
Kim Coates as Zo
Natassia Malthe as Sonja
Matthew Knight as Timothy
Directed by James Isaac
Most werewolf movies stink. Let’s be honest. It seems there is no middle ground when it comes to the “Human Turning Into Wolf” cinematic experience. The films are either great (“American Werewolf in London,” the original “Wolf Man,” “The Howling”) or terrible (“American Werewolf in Paris,” “Cursed,” the recent “Blood & Chocolate”). So where does After Dark’s “Skinwalkers,” finally released after over a year of delays, fit into the spectrum? The answer may not surprise you in the slightest.
Taking its story from a variety of other, better films, “Skinwalkers” is the tale of Timothy (Matthew Knight), a kid about to celebrate his 13th birthday. He is cared for by his mother (Rhona Mitra), Uncle Jonah (Elias Koteas), a cousin, her boyfriend, and even the local mailman. The film wastes no time explaining why he has so many ‘protectors’ â he is the Chosen One of this movie’s mythology, and it is foreseen that on his 13th birthday, he will somehow be able to stop the werewolf curse that some oppose (i.e. his family) and others (the bad guys) embrace.
Naturally, the bad guys (led by Jason Behr, and including character actor extraordinaire Kim Coates) aren’t too keen on the idea of losing their werewolf powers, and so they set out to kill the child before midnight strikes on the night of the full moon (coincidentally, his birthday). Who will win? Who will die? Who will possibly be surprised at a single thing that occurs in the film???
As you might have guessed by the description, the film borrows in chunks of all shapes and sizes from films like “Underworld,” “Blade,” “Night Watch,” etc. The closest thing to an original (or at least, less clichÃ©d) idea in the film is the Navajo myths and legends behind the ‘skinwalkers,’ but this area of the film is so underdeveloped and underutilized, you might wonder why they bothered including it at all. The film would work best on those who had never seen a film before, but even they would probably be able to see the ‘twists’ coming from a mile away.
But the generic story isn’t the only misstep. Much like the “Underworld” films, a big part of the problem is that even though they are werewolves, they spend most of their time in human form, shooting at each other with a never ending supply of automatic weapons. Other than the finale and the odd transformation scene or two, one could easily mistake this film, mostly set in the daylight, for a Cinemax Drive-In Action movie from the late 1980s.
Jim Isaac, who previously disappointed with “Jason X,” fares no better here. He makes the fatal mistake of showcasing endless scenes of characters shooting at each other (often without any sort of cover) and never showing where the bullets land. Some of the scenery is nice (the location of the film is never quite divulged, it looks like equal parts New England and Arizona) and he makes sure we see a lot of the always beautiful Mitra, but otherwise his direction is as pedestrian as the script itself.
The cast is more or less serviceable. Mitra doesn’t have much to do until the end, but manages to create some sympathy for her character. Koteas is always a pleasure, no surprise there. However Jason Behr, as the main heavy, is the least menacing villain in recent memory, and his wooden delivery (it was OK on Roswell, he was a damn alien!) doesn’t help matters. Worse, Kim Coates has literally nothing to do in the film, and you gotta wonder why they would hire an actor so inherently interesting (especially in villain roles) to play a more or less anonymous henchman.
Then again, maybe all his best moments were cut. In a strange move, After Dark and Lionsgate had the film re-edited to secure a PG-13 rating, and it certainly shows. Most of the deaths are off camera, instead we usually just watch someone firing a shotgun a few times before cutting to a body slumped on the floor. Why they would choose to make a film more accessible to a mass audience and then dump it on less than 1000 screens is puzzling at best. And when the editing is so obvious, it’s an insult to the poor few that forked over their hard earned money to watch the film in the theater. I am starting to suspect this increasingly common last minute editing is simply a way to sucker people into paying to see their bad films twice, as the DVD will almost surely include the excised footage. But given the storytelling problems, I doubt the violence will help matters much, if at all.
In the end, the film’s only success is that it is better than “Captivity” (which is saying almost nothing), so at least the studio has improved a bit. Perhaps a dozen or so releases from now, After Dark will finally get something right.