Hunt for the Skinwalker takes the audience on a journey to “the most studied paranormal hotspot in history” according to the director, Jeremy Corbell. While the film is eerie, it leaves its viewers with more questions than answers.
Based on the book by Dr. Colm Kelleher and George Knapp, Corbell’s documentary is really two documentaries in one. Somewhat haphazardly, the film jumps between George Knapp’s unreleased documentary footage concerning Utah’s infamous Skinwalker Ranch, filmed a little over a decade ago, and Corbell’s current footage and interviews.
Knapp’s footage dives into the facts and mythology which surrounds the ranch and the Uintah Basin, heralded by many to be a paranormal hotspot. Well known to locals, and around the world to those in paranormal and UFO circles, the seemingly strange and bizarre events which surround the ranch are brought to life in this aspect of the film. Having recently read the book, the most interesting and compelling content in the documentary was the actual footage and photographs taken by Robert Bigelow’s National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) team which investigated the ranch during the late nineties. Described and explained in the book, the film, for the first time, shows tapes from the original NIDS investigation. Images of mutilated animals and strange lights finally sated my personal curiosity, and sent a chill running up my spine.
Beyond this unseen footage, however, Knapp, nor Corbell, provide any documentation or scientific data regarding the studies done on the ranch. The viewer is left to simply take the decade-old word of the various members of the NIDS team. While the NIDS testimony and footage are compelling, seeing at least some expert’s reports, blood test results on dead livestock, EMF results, or soil sample results all would have put more meat on the film’s bones. Some of the footage and reports have been available online for some time, so I am unsure why more data wasn’t included.
Corbell’s contribution to the film is starkly different. Much more modern in style, Corbell attempts to convince the viewer through dramatic prose that the events on the ranch are all real. Corbell visits the ranch on multiple occasions, and even secures an interview with the current owner, though his identity is not revealed. According to the owner, research on the ranch continues to this day, and significant money has been spent on adding technology and tools to help the scientific endeavor continue. Again, no specific information or data is provided, which gives the film more of that “take our word for it” vibe. That is not to say that the events on the ranch are not real. They very well may be, however, for any viewers who have not already bought into the stories and lore surrounding Skinwalker Ranch, very little evidence is provided to sway skeptical minds who want to see the data.
Corbell’s interviews with local witnesses tell the frightening story that these events occur all around the area, and not just locally within the ranch’s borders. While the off-camera interview questions are leading at times, these interviews explore the emotional and physical ramifications of the Phenomenon.
Cinematically, the photography is beautiful and rich. It perfectly portrays a ranch and an area where something isn’t right. The camera expertly tells of a place where the land is haunted by something, something that should not exist, yet arguably, does.
Finally, Corbell and Knapp reiterate the link between the Pentagon’s UFO program, the Advanced Aerospace Weapons Systems Application Program (AAWSAP)/Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), and Robert Bigelow’s organization, Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS), saying that American tax money was used to investigate Skinwalker Ranch. While this is pitched as “exclusive” new information in the film, George Knapp published this information in May that Bigelow was awarded the AAWSAP contract, and that BAASS was actively working at Skinwalker Ranch.
What is missing from this documentary is a clear narrative and thesis which links all of Knapp’s older footage and information with Corbell’s contemporary findings. Instead of a flowing story which weaves all of these ideas together, it is awkwardly chunked into disassociated segments. While it could be argued that Skinwalker Ranch itself is the through line, there is little done to establish a clear investigative timeline. Overall, the film feels a little chaotic. Perhaps this was a purposeful stylistic choice, or perhaps issues arose during production. Regardless, it replicates the sensation generated by the paranormal events which take place on the ranch; the viewer becomes disconnected from stability, feeling unsure, which according to the various interviews in the film, seems to be the modus operandi of the Phenomenon.
If you are already convinced that strange things are happening at Skinwalker Ranch, or you are a fan of the book, then this film compliments the original text. It provides some great older footage and absorbing interviews. If you are a newcomer to the topic, the book may be a better place to start as it lays a lot of necessary groundwork.
While the various NIDS scientists and the new anonymous ranch owner constantly assure us that the supernatural activity is objectively real, that is all this documentary truly provides. It seems to all hinge upon trust. The viewer is left to deal with shadows, hoping and wishing that whatever is casting them actually exists. Hunt for the Skinwalker fundamentally comes full circle. It ends as it begins, with a lot of questions, and very few answers. It brings the viewer to a fork on a remote dark road; you either believe or you don’t.