Skin Walkers (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers likes his horror/action hybrids with horror and/or action...
Unknown to him or his mother, a half-blood named Timothy is about to transform into a powerful anti-werewolf, bringing about a cure to the ‘curse’ of lycanthropy. He's been guarded since birth by ‘good’ werewolves, or ‘Skin Walkers’, against ‘bad’ werewolves that embrace their bloodlust, and revel in the immortal. Three days before his 13th birthday the ‘bad’ werewolves find him, and a race against the red moon begins.
Before even putting Skin Walkers into my DVD player I noticed two things about the film that didn’t inspire much confidence. First were the film’s ads that hyped director Jim Isaac, the same guy that brought us Jason X. Now I’m not about to get down on Jason X, a very entertaining bad movie, but there isn’t much behind the film’s made-for-TV direction to make anyone realistic do a dance over the director’s latest feature. It’s like getting excited about a new Kevin Van Hook film.
My second, and the more important anti-inspirational note, was the film’s PG-13 rating. I don’t need every film I watch to be a hard-R bloody mess, but I expect a warring werewolf movie to spill more than a lenient PG-13 level amount of the red stuff. I’m not expecting Shakespeare, I’m expecting entertainment, and I very rarely find pulled punches entertaining. Unless a film is specifically aimed at children or full-on spoof, I expect an R-rating or worse from the following subgenre features—werewolf films, zombie films, vampire films, rape/revenge films, and of course, nunsploitation films.
My fears about director Jim Isaac were half verified. Isaac is very workman like director who knows how to point a camera and cut a scene. Thankfully he doesn’t go overboard with ADHD MTV cuts or wacky stock effects, but his action and horror elements are telegraphed and unoriginal. Now I’ll give him some support in the originality department because he didn’t write the script (it took three other guys to do that), but he doesn’t quite have the energy to overcome the scripts over familiar elements.
Of course originality is the least of the scripts problems. I’ve seen plenty of action/horror hybrids with derivative scripts that still manage exciting moments and snappy dialogue (case in point Dog Soldiers). Skin Walkers is full of the same hokey scenes of wise men explaining age old prophecies you’ve seen a million times before, plus a few tepid, Robert Rodriguez inspired shoot outs and awkward werewolf transformation scenes, and one Near Dark barroom brawl ‘homage’ to flavour the been-there-done-that pot. If I had my way, Night Watch would be the last film ever made concerning an entire subculture’s concern with a prophecy revolving around a young man’s ascension to power ( Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Matrix, Underworld, and on, and on).
A lot of the ‘original’ stuff doesn’t make any sense, even given the film’s unrealistic universe. Why wouldn’t the good werewolves share the boy’s ‘gift’ with him or his mother? Why wouldn’t she question her almost prisoner-like lot in life sooner? How did she not notice the townsfolk’s werewolfism for thirteen years? There’s plenty more, but those would be spoilers. Even if we suspend our disbelief and pretend we didn’t already see a gillion other werewolf and warring secret society thrillers we still have to deal with really bland dramatic filler, and some cheesy dialogue that a cast of decent actors can’t quite overcome (I really wonder what Elias Koteas saw in this script).
And what of my PG-13 fears? Well they were definitely founded, because these punches are pulled like fine taffy. Slaughter scenes are obviously cut, a sex scene is cropped, naughty language is edited or seemingly re-dubbed, and the transformation scenes (what little there is) are relatively painless. Anyone that loves An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, and Company of Wolves knows how powerful a gruesome werewolf transformation can be, and anyone that loves a good monster attack flick knows a little gore can go a long way. The plot alone, involving people who view their compulsion to eat other people as their best trait is dark enough without the other horror elements to warrant at the very least a few curse words.
The image here is clean, presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with no obvious artefacts and very fine grain. Detail levels could be a bit sharper, but are overall quite effective with only minimal edge enhancement. Isaac’s use of colour is a little obvious at times (I think the Underworld films killed cool blue action for good), but bright and effective on the DVD. Skin tones are spot on and compression noise is minimal even in bright warm hues. Black levels are mostly deep, but during the bluer moments tend to pick up the hues around them.
Not many Lionsgate releases come with DTS ES 6.1 tracks, so its presence on this disc was a nice plus. Overall the track, along with a very similar sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track, isn’t really all that huge. Though the track contains clean and clear elements, the overall mix becomes quite muddy at times, and the whole thing comes across as more noisy than thrilling. When the surround channels aren’t hampered with too much sound the surround effects work quite well, and I had no problems discerning dialogue. The film’s score is underwhelming and often sounds like it belongs on B-television.
I may have teased director Jim Isaac a bit at the head of my review, but I wrote that before I listened to his audio commentary track. I expected little from the guy as a director, and I expected even less as a commentator. I was wrong on that count, Isaac is a fantastic commentator. He covers the things he likes about the film without ever sounded conceited, and is sure to point out his pratfalls without blaming everyone else. He’s great at explaining intention without boring his audience or jumping aboard the maudlin bus, he’s genuinely gracious, and he expresses plenty of regret at the behind the scenes studio interference (e.g. PG-13) without whining. A very nice track that could do with another few contributors to fill in the blanks.
The disc holds eight deleted scenes, which seem finished, but are presented in a 1.78:1 rather than a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I was hoping for some blood and guts, but what I mostly got were snippets of character entrances and exits, and a few minor and unnecessary plot points. Mostly things seem to have been cut to avoid giving away plot points too quickly. The scenes total just under six minutes.
The making of featurette is a puff piece that only runs about eight minutes. Most of the time is spent focusing on the film’s special make-up effects, which though produced in cooperation with the almighty Stan Winston, are pretty un-special, and mostly delegated to the film’s final minutes. This is followed by a pre-viz animatic/storyboard of one of the film’s more successful action sequences. This probably should’ve been a multi-angle feature, because it’s separated into three chapters—big animatic with PIP footage, big footage with PIP animatic, and animatic only with a producer’s commentary. Next is a brief digital effects comparison with producer commentary, which runs a whopping minute and a half. And it comes to a close with a set of trailers.
There’s really not much here to recommend. Skin Walkers isn’t awful, but it’s pretty bland and definitely forgettable. Everyone involved has an idea of how to make a motion picture, but the script isn’t worth their time, and the production interference guts the film of any lurid entertainment. Werewolf fans will likely be disappointed by both the lack of werewolves and the lack of werewolf attacks. It’s not made for Sci-Fi channel bad, but doesn’t really feel like a real movie either.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 27th November 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS ES 6.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Behind the Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jim Isaac
Cast: Kim Coates, Barbara Gordon, Elias Koteas, Tom Jackson, Rhona Mitra
Genre: Action and Horror
Length: 110 minutes
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