Found footage films have become the cheap way to make films, and why not in this day and age of making a profit. However it is because of this and with the rash of new found footage films that see the light of day, what once seemed fresh and interesting is now almost a new breed of horror trope.
Gone are the days of the screaming blonde with a huge rack running up the stairs, now it has been replaced by the shaky camera when something unexpected happens or its camera interference when something is about to happen. The found footage sub genre still has these tried and tested elements from the old school but the new school formula is getting very tired, very quickly.
Skinwalker Ranch is loosely based on the alleged happenings at the real ranch called Sherman Ranch located in Utah, it is the site of paranormal and UFO activity. The name Skinwalker comes from the Native Americans who called people with supernatural ability to turn into the animals of their choosing. Skinwalker Ranch is by no means a bad film, in fact I think it is quite well made, has some very ingenious set pieces and has some solid acting. Unfortunately as the opening paragraph stated, found footage films are getting very samey.
The setup for Skinwalker Ranch is familiar yet enjoyable. After seeing some home video footage of a child disappearing after a bright blue light flashes… we get straight into the story with members of a scientific research team checking out the events at the titular ranch. With this comes a fair bit of perfunctory exposition and where every character gets a short video introduction, where you get see what type of personalities they all have and setting up some good payoffs.
Unfortunately writer Adam Ohler doesn’t really do enough with these events and also struggles with the larger than normal cast for a film of this kind. I can’t help but feel this film may have been better served better if it was filmed in the regular fashion with some found footage elements thrown in there, like the film that the research crew find and watch, which for me was the most effective part of the film.
A film that had a lot of these personalities are all the character development you are going to get. The cameras are all set up with motion sensors so not only do you have a hand held camera capturing the actions, you have the static security cameras ala Paranormal Activity 2. As mentioned before the tropes come thick and fast and by the time the Native American elder tells them that they should leave, you know what you are signing up for.
Like many films before it Skinwalker Ranch keeps its cards close to its chest early and slowly reveals more and more. However as it reveals more the less it makes sense or perhaps more aptly, the more questions are raised. There is a feast of phenomena happening at the ranch, with huge beasts, electromagnetic events, strange sounds, cattle mutilation and even ghost like images. Unfortunately none of these events are joined together so the film doesn’t make that much sense.
Director Devin McGinn does do a good job of orchestrating good ideas and good intentions but the plot and writing let it down as it relies too much on things we had seen a thousand times before and, for a found footage film to seem fresh, it needed to stand out from the over populated crowd.
Ryan Morrissey-Smith @TigersMS78