Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Skinwalkers (2006)

Werewolves exist! And they are divided into two groups. The first group are the nice small-town werewolves who like to have a nice chat drinking coffee and eating apple pie, and like to tie each other up in nice harnesses when changing time comes to not have to go out and kill people. Killing people makes a werewolf insta-evil, you understand, and these evil werewolves, or to be more precise, evil biker werewolves make up the second group of werewolves.

All could be well - or uncomfortable, depending on how you look at it - for werewolf-kind, but there is a prophecy that the son of a werewolf will end their curse when he turns thirteen years; something the biker werewolves do not approve of.

So it is probably rather fortunate that Timothy (Matthew Knight), the chosen one, and his mother Rachel (Rhona Mitra) are protected by a whole small town full of good werewolves. Not that anybody would tell Rachel or Timothy about the whole werewolf Jesus thing - they're thinking they're living with the family of Rachel's dead husband in a very friendly small town.

Alas, a few days before Timothy is supposed to fully turn into Werewolf Jesus, the biker werewolves (all four of them) under their leader Varek (Jason Behr) attack the town. Turns out the good werewolves didn't spend any of the last thirteen years on planning how best to protect their messiah, and are mostly slaughtered, notwithstanding that they should be prepared, are fighting on their home turf, and have an incredible advantage in numbers.

A handful of the nice wolves do at least manage to get away with Rachel and Timothy, but their backup plan seems to be to drive around until they can hide in a cave, so it's probably no surprise that more encounters with the biker werewolves will follow.

As far as action movies with werewolves go, Skinwalkers is one of the better examples of that particular sub-genre. Unfortunately, this isn't a sub-sub-(sub?-)genre that includes many films that are any good at all, so the movie reaches its lofty position at the top of the dubious pack by being just about watchable.

Director James Isaac (of Jason X "fame") does at least know most of the tricks of mid-low-budget action filmmaking, and so all scenes containing shooting, werewolf punch-outs and gratuitous slow motion are as basically alright as they come, if completely lacking in imagination or the sense of excitement that would come with less predictable or just more awesome action. Hong Kong this is not.

But at least there's the - in cheap US action movies since 1995 - mandatory exploding gas station to enjoy. Though it's disappointingly not placed in the rather limp finale.

The rest of the movie (aka every scene without violence) suffers  more from terminal stupidity than from predictability, though it's still more predictable than rain in autumn around where I live. It's not just the whole prophecy set-up - and why exactly does everybody know Timothy is the chosen one? Was there a burning bush somewhere who informed everyone? Do the biker werewolves have an email newsletter? It's also the fact that everybody acts like an utter tool, from the bad guys coming in guns blazing when they could reach their target better by stealth and using the pulsating masses in their heads, to the good guys who don't seem to have any actual plan of action, or any sensible back-up plans. The film seems to take place in a parallel universe where it's logical not to tell Rachel that her son's on somebody's death list; where a shoot-out in a hospital or the killing off of a whole small town or lots of werewolf attacks don't incur any form of police reaction, and so on, and so forth. It's always astonishing how little thought and care three scriptwriters can put into a single script.

That lack of care and intelligence really is a shame in this particular case, because there was an interesting film about the difference between barbarism and civilization waiting to be made out of some of the film's ideas; not necessarily an original one, but a thoughtful one.

On the more positive side, the bad-script-experienced cast is as good as the film allows, with everyone playing their usual parts. Rhona Mitra is only allowed to get into action heroine mode very late in the proceedings, though. I suspect nobody involved with the production wanted to get anyone watching too excited. You never know if a member of the audience has a weak heart, and who wants to have to live through a law suit for manslaughter?

Be that as it may, Skinwalkers is perfectly watchable. It's just not good enough to excite nor bad enough to amuse.



Pauline said...

I watched this movie one Sunday while catching up on the laundry and pretty much felt like I didn't miss a thing on the multiple occasions that I had to leave the room.

I note that plausibility often suffers under multiple writers. I wonder sometimes if they're all in such a hurry to top the last guy's big idea that they don't let pesky issues like realism and context enter into the discussion much less get in the way.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

When it comes to action films, I'd even be satisfied with simple internal coherence.

I wouldn't be surprised if it had something to do with (say) writer number three doing a complete re-write on a script he didn't have anything to do with before and not really understanding (or caring) what whole scenes or concepts are supposed to do in it. Add producers or the director changing other parts of the script as they go along, and you get a mess like this.
Obviously, that's only a theory.