A throwback to workmanlike '70s and '80s-era low-budget action thrillers, Skinwalkers is the kind of movie where the monsters always lurk in the shadows so the audience can't see how cheap the costumes look. It might seem pretty chintzy next to Transformers or Spider-man 3, but unlike those well-heeled CGI extravaganzas, at least Skinwalkers knows it's a B-movie, and it proceeds accordingly, promising only what it knows it can deliver. Director James Isaac—a David Cronenberg protégé whose style recalls John Carpenter at his most stylishly campy—has crafted a knowingly silly good-werewolf-vs.-bad-werewolf story into a lean-and-scruffy David in a season full of bloated Goliaths.
An opening crawl—any real B-movie has an opening crawl—says there's a war going on between some werewolves that see their supernatural powers as a blessing and others that see it as a curse. Heading up the former group is Jason Behr, a laconic sociopath with the clothes and facial stubble of a singer in a bad mid-'90s grunge band. Behr leads a gang of murderous, motorcycle-riding baddies on a hunt for 12-year-old Matthew Knight, who can rid the world of the were-curse forever once he turns 13, releasing uncle Elias Koteas and his merry band of friendly neighborhood wolf-people from their wretched condition. Koteas and mother Rhona Mitra just have to keep Knight alive for three days until his birthday, though an unexpected link between the boy and Behr complicates matters.
Skinwalkers shows early on that it isn't as dumb as it pretends to be when Knight's silver-haired were-granny pulls out a ridiculously large handgun and launches into a firefight with Behr, all while tersely instructing her grandson how to reload and shoot. The rest of the movie similarly veers between winking self-parody and the reliable comforts of solid, albeit unspectacular, genre filmmaking. Freely borrowing elements from Night Of The Living Dead, The Evil Dead, The Howling, and The Terminator, Skinwalkers inevitably feels a tad familiar. But while it isn't particularly scary or suspenseful, it's fun and surprisingly breezy compared with its big-budget brethren. Anybody who can appreciate a cheesy, cheaply made Canadian action-horror film should walk away satisfied.