The 2013 found-footage film Skinwalker Ranch, directed by Devin McGinn, is inspired by the real-life location of the same name.
Skinwalker Ranch—originally Sherman Ranch—located in Utah in a place called Bottle Hollow is believed to be the site of various paranormal phenomena. Among the claims are UFO’s, mysterious lights, disembodied voices, and enormous wolf. The ranch was popularized by journalist George Knapp, who penned several articles concerning peculiar activity on the ranch and later co-authored a book with research scientist Colm Kelleher.
I should also briefly explain where Skinwalker Ranch gets its bizarre name. A skinwalker is a creature from Native American folklore, particularly among the Navajo. More specifically it is a person, usually described as a witch, who has the ability to take the form of animals—they are able to do this by wearing the pelt of the animal. Skinwalkers are extremely feared among Native Americans as they are considered to be evil and are known to terrorize innocent people. The ranch received its name from the belief that a skinwalker is responsible for all of the strange activity that surrounds it.
The film draws loosely from the ranch’s history and superstition. We are introduced to a band of amateur investigators who have been given permission by the ranch’s owner to explore the mysterious property. The owner, Hoyt (Jon Gries), has been driven to desperation after the tragic and curious disappearance of his young son, who one day simply vanished without a trace. Since his loss Hoyt has isolated himself on the ranch and become the local nut job, but welcomes the team of investigators, whom he believes are there to help find his son.
The team, led by Sam (Steven Berg), a field scientist for a research organization called MDE (Modern Defense Enterprises). Joining him is an old friend, Cameron (played by the director, McGinn), an investigative reporter acting as a third-party. The other members of the team are a local veterinarian, a couple techies, and a cameraman. Cameron, the resident skeptic, is quickly faced with a terrifying epiphany, as the supernatural activity on the ranch grows more frequent and more bizarre while remaining inexplicable. With each passing night the crew witnesses everything from the apparition of Hoyt’s missing son, mutilated livestock, mysterious idling vehicles, and the giant wolf of legend, and it isn’t long until it isn’t just the UNNECESSARY dog being killed.
While I’m aware that all the supposed paranormal activity at Skinwalker Ranch is so intriguing because it fails to be explained by science and logic, this film asks more questions than it answers. Piling weird events and creepy scenes on top of each other does not make a good movie, and that’s really all Skinwalker Ranch accomplishes. Sure, there were some chilling moments in the film and perhaps even a touch of good old-fashioned tension, but it fails to create any depth, and even gets shallower as it rambles on. In fact, I even thought it started out pretty interesting, and appeared to be a somewhat researched film as theories on the paranormal are introduced along with each occurrence. But then it just boiled down to cheesy UFO conspiracy theories with absolutely no reward at the end.
Although Skinwalker Ranch failed to impress me, I would like to welcome new director Devin McGinn. A debut is a tricky thing, and pretty much impossible to do perfectly, so I will gladly keep McGinn under my radar and check out what he has coming next.