SKINWALKER *** USA 2021 Dir: Robert Conway. 94 mins
Set in Arizona in 1883, the film opens with two cowboys Benny (Nathaniel Burns) and Hugo (Robert Conway) desecrating an Indian burial ground, with Benny stealing a token necklace as a memento, which would never be a good thing to do…
In the dark of night, Hugo begins bleeding from all his facial orifices – including his eyes – and attacks and wounds Benny, but ends up being stabbed by Benny in the eye and is then killed by him.
The film moves to a local town that’s been all but wiped out by cholera and a local lawman, Marshall Bascom (Dan Higgins) and his colleague Deputy Riggs (Cameron Kotecki) arrive in the town looking for specific local criminals. After killing Elmer (Christopher Beescom), a gang member and kidnapping Maisie (Eva Hamilton), the wife of the gang leader Dalton (?)- who with his other two gang members set out looking for her.
The sets and locations – from the cowboy town to the woods, hills and mountains – are very well filmed and the quality of the movie is very good; it’s certainly not your run of the mill low budget horror flick at all and the first part of the film plays out like a regular ‘Wild West flick’.
Dalton (who bizarrely isn’t listed in the credits or on IMDB, despite starring as one of the main characters) and his two gang members Vern (Charlie E. Motley) and Ambrose (Mike Doherty), head off to retrieve Maisie.
Meantime Benny is captured by Willard (Daniel Link) and his three young wives – Nellie (Amelia Haberman), Clara (Becky Jo Harris) and Judith (Liz Manning), eventually passing away in their outside shed.
Willard is then captured by native Indians and the body of Benny appears to have disappeared, just at the time when the Dalton gang arrives, them taking the reappeared Benny’s head off in a ‘digital decapitation’ scene, which looks very fake and very poorly executed.
The acting is fairly good throughout, but the actual premise of the ‘skinwalker’ – an ancient American Indian legend is not handled very well. In Navajo culture the ‘skinwalker’ is a witch that can shapeshift and can turn itself into an animal and possess other people, but this film is more like a western zombie movie, with people dying and then coming back to life – like in the new horror book genre of the ‘splatter western’.
In the final scenes there is a better representation of a Skinwalker, but this is what should’ve happened from the start.
The film plays out as a straightforward Western for 80% of the running time and a horror for the final 20%.
A well acted and more than adequately filmed movie, that had potential to be a lot more than the sum of all its parts, but it failed to make the most of the skills that were obviously on tap.
Review by Ian Carroll