Studio: Deep Studios
Director: Devin McGinn, Steve Berg
Writer: Adam Ohler
Producer: Ken Bretschneider, Devin McGinn, Murphy Michaels, Steve Berg, Tobijah Tyler
Stars: Jon Gries, Kyle Davis, Erin Cahill, Devin McGinn, Matt Rocheleau, Steve Berg
A research team investigates claims of paranormal activity on a ranch where a boy mysteriously disappeared in an orb of light.
The real world location of Skinwalker Ranch has the outward appearance of being an innocuous expanse of Utah pasture rife for cattle herding and a quiet country lifestyle. In actuality, UFO enthusiasts believe the property is a hotspot for paranormal activities that include animal mutilations, crop circles, glowing orbs, poltergeists, and unidentifiable creatures.
The horror movie “Skinwalker Ranch” has the outward appearance of using the “found footage” format to tell a story about an extraterrestrial encounter instead of retreading the usual sub-genre ground of a paranormal haunting. In actuality, its plot ends up being no different than any of those overused haunted asylum investigations, except “Skinwalker Ranch” takes place on 1,000 acres of farmland instead of inside an abandoned mental hospital.
After Hoyt Miller’s eight-year-old son Cody disappears in a blinding orb of light, a shadowy organization known as MDE dispatches a team of researchers to Miller’s ranch to look for evidence of unusual phenomena. That investigation into a possible close encounter turns into a fight for sanity and for survival when animals start turning up dead and strange creatures begin stalking the perimeter.
“Skinwalker Ranch” is populated by well-defined personas that push things along. Those characters are also strictly limited to the confines of the definitions from which they never make an effort to escape. Hoyt is a typical rancher with a dirty baseball cap, an oversized belt buckle, and a proclivity to reach for a shotgun at the first hint of trouble. Local townsfolk consist of country types perched atop an overturned bucket with a fishing rod in one hand and a can of Natural Light in the other. And the investigative team consists of the cutie science skeptic, the determined at all costs believer, a put upon assistant, and a technician chock full of ‘tude.
With two others to boot, the film has a bigger cast than it needs, particularly when considering that the extent of interpersonal development is one lone scene of two bunkmates getting to know each other. At just over 70 minutes in length without credits, “Skinwalker Ranch” does not have the time to establish its roster as much more than meat for the beasts. They all have their individual personalities, but none of them are seen long enough to develop a connection with the audience.
The story itself is a series of loosely connected vignettes that include discovering dead animals, pursuing fanged creatures, puzzling over cave drawings, and encountering aliens from outer space, among other seemingly unrelated events. Indeed, legends and rumors about the real-life Skinwalker Ranch have covered all of these same things. But when they are all stirred into the pot of a “found footage” thriller, it feels like the story is missing a central focus. By the time the movie ends, there is no rational explanation for how such disparate phenomena relate to one another, leaving an unsatisfying conclusion that “Skinwalker Ranch” does not have a clear plot in mind.
For a low budget, the production value is high. Some of the digital effects are too crisp to work as completely believable, but a sincere effort is on display. Several setups work effectively and the sudden movement jump scares can tweak a rise out of jittery viewers. The issue with “Skinwalker Ranch” is that it plays everything too safe. “Based on true events” is not the hook that it used to be and the movie never finds a memorable moment that leaves a lasting impression. It follows the “found footage” formula to a fault, although it at least does so with a decent enough amount of cinematic sense. At the same time, it carries a disappointing patina of having nothing much to offer that has not already been seen many times before.
Review Score: 55