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Hunt for the Skinwalker (Movie Review)

Hunt for the Skinwalker (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: Skinwalker Ranch is purportedly one of the most scientifically studied hotbeds of UFO and paranormal activity in U.S. history. This documentary account attempts to prove why.

REVIEW: Outside of Roswell, New Mexico and Area 51 in Nevada, renowned ufologists and paranormal investigators claim Skinwalker Ranch to be the most haunted place in the United States. Located in the Uintah Basin in Utah, the sprawling ranch was the subject of a book published in 1995 called HUNT FOR THE SKINWALKER, written by George Knapp and microbiologist Colm Kelleher. 23 years later, documentarian Jeremy Corbell has recruited Knapp to essentially retell his story on the big-screen. The difference is, Corbell has access to the countless hours of unseen video footage captured by Knapp when he visited the ranch prior to penning his expose, footage that, for reasons we’ll delve into below, were kept hidden from the public. It’s all quite fascinating, until you realize there simply isn’t substantial evidence of anything other than secondhand testimony and fuzzy eyewitness accounting. Worse, when it laboriously takes in excess of two hours to reach a wildly underwhelming conclusion, the lack of compelling evidence given in HUNT FOR THE SKINWALKER is made all the more irksome. In Mulder we trust right? We surely want to believe. Alas, this film gives us little reason to do so.

For centuries, dwellers of the Uintah Basin have claimed to have been tormented by strange, inexplicable phenomena. UFOs, huge bright lights, eviscerated cattle, predatory creatures, hovering orbs and the like have been spotted by various inhabitants. As such, the Department of Defense commissioned a research effort to examine the paranormal activity at Skinwalker Ranch a decade or so ago. Between their findings and the sealed tapes opened by George Knapp, Corbell attempts to unravel the mystery. Unfortunately, far more questions are mysteriously left than satisfyingly answered. Corbell adheres to the structure of Knapp’s book, and goes on a case by case examination of various supernatural experiences. The one I found most entertaining, if nothing else, is the one in which a giant wolf, two and half times the normal size, took four slugs from a .357 magnum, then two more from a point blank 30 ought 8, before casually sauntering off without so much as a hitch. Stranger yet, before the wolf tried to drag a head of cattle through an iron fence, it acted quite friendly to the farmers and even let one of them pet its head. Weird, indeed.

Other oddities include a wide range of hovering crafts and gigantic bright lights in the sky that multiple people witnessed simultaneously. No credible answers are ever provided, but rather postulative stories merely relayed by Knapp, who swears strange occurrences are afoot at Skywalker Ranch, but vows to keep those who’ve informed him about it in most harrowing detail, a total secret. More vexing, Knapp admits that in all of his personal visits at the ranch over the years, he has never personally experienced anything strange at all. Same goes for Corbell, who not only feels the need to put himself on to the screen from time to time for no apparent reason, but also admits to seeing or sensing nothing out of the ordinary at the ranch. Again, that only leaves us with the eyewitness accounts and interviews seen in Knapp’s footage, and the contemporary locals who share similar stories. One lady, for instance, claims to have seen bright lights suddenly appear overhead, only to quickly vanish. She possibly believes her son’s MS is due to the making eye contact with the light. Another man’s face was burned so red by the lights that people wonder if his lethal bout with cancer was caused by the UFO.

What I liked most about HUNT FOR THE SKINWALKER is its real, lived-in setting. There’s an authenticity one simply can’t feign even with even the most expensive budget or talented production designer, and here, even with a rash of low-tech handheld camerawork, the atmosphere is alone genuinely chilling. The decrepit housing and moldering structures on the property lend itself for a horror movie setting, and Corbell properly elicits the right amount of foreboding energy the locale naturally boasts. I also thought the retro found-footage of Dr. Kelleher was the most compelling, as was not only plumbing down to the deepest, darkest roots of the historic place, but was doing so without a hint of irony or exploitation. He’s honestly intrigued, and consequently asking the right kinds of questions, which make us all the more invested as viewers.

Another mildly interesting account includes cattle mutilation, so precise and so oddly bloodless, that it couldn’t possibly be done by human hands. Again, all conjecture. This becomes such a problem and the hearsay such a crutch in the film that, in the end, Corbell invites Knapp and the others involved back to the ranch and concedes as much. They sit around a campfire at night, lamenting what they’ve failed to personally and photographically prove. It’s essentially a giant mea culpa for stringing viewers along a promising path en route to revealing a whole lot of nothing. A shame, as Skinwalker Ranch does seem like a place worthy of such investigation, and even more upsetting because of how limited the access to certain stories still remain. Therefore, between that, the lack of editorial discipline, and the repetitive absence of hard proof, recommendations can only really go out to the dogged UFO completists and most hardcore X-Filers who live and breathe for this kind of material. For everyone else, SKINWALKER RANCH is bound to be a bit of a letdown destination.

Extra Tidbit: HUNT FOR THE SKINWALKER is available on all VOD platforms beginning Wednesday, September 19th.
Source: AITH

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