Skinwalker Ranch (2013)
★ / ★★★★
Here is yet another example on how not to execute a found footage film.
A mysterious organization called Modern Defense Enterprises sends a team to Skinwalker Ranch, a place that has recently been mired in controversy due to the disappearance of a rancher’s son. Although the boy’s literal vanishing is documented on camera, which involves a droning sound and a blinding flash of light, a few people still believe that it has somehow been altered to hide what might have really happened.
“Skinwalker Ranch,” written by Adam Ohler and directed by Devin McGinn, does not seem to know what it wishes to accomplish. It looks and feels embarrassingly messy and so it is—for the most part—a trial to sit through. We want to figure out what is happening but it does not appear to have the discipline to A) stick to one path and explore it for all its worth or B) traverse multiple paths and provide the necessary, sensical linkages so that its mythology makes sense as a whole. As a result, what we have here is a cheap hybrid knock-off of M. Night Shyamalan’s excellent “Signs” and Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity.”
Why does the majority of every mysterious happening occur at night? First, the periphery of the ranch is dark. One would think that the fancy organization would provide its investigators high-tech cameras to overcome a simple element like darkness. Second, it does not help that the inside of the house has consistently poor lightning. It is not a good sign when the clearest thing we can see on screen is the time stamp. Third, the picture has the tendency to use glitches just when something intense is occurring; instead of being scared or curious, I was angry and frustrated because I could not see anything.
If glitches and statics are not bad enough, there is incessant shaking of the handheld camera. Still, however, that is not the worst part: while running away from a supposedly scary thing, the camera is occasionally pointed at the ground. I wondered if the director ever bothered to review a scene he had just shot and, if so, how many times. How closely did he look at the images? Was he really convinced that what he had just shot could scare someone over the age of five or did he just want to go home early that day?
Some may argue that found footages movies are supposed to create an illusion that what the audience is watching is real. While I do not disagree, many filmmakers translate this conceit as an absolute and forgetting the most important point (and elementary, in my opinion): they are still making a movie that is designed to entertain. Therefore, at the very least, the images are not supposed to be incomprehensible—something I could have recorded myself while blindfolded.
I have not even gone into the film’s premise which is a shame because I thought it had potential. I was curious to know if what was really happening involved extraterrestrials or a different kind of beast. But because of the incompetent techniques from behind the camera coupled with a screenplay that lacks practicality and energy, the curious story is drowned. Needless to say, steer far away—very far away—from “Skinwalker Ranch.” Despite the commotion the characters undergo, its core is empty and the periphery is nothing special.