Whenever I’m watching a UFO/paranormal documentary –and it is not as often as you might think, as most of them tend to be pretty atrocious!– there’s always one little question ever present in the back of my head: Who is this aimed at?
When it comes to Jeremy Corbell’s latest film, Hunt for the Skinwalker, answering that question is a bit complicated. Because what’s purported to be the first-ever documentary on “the most studied paranormal hotspot in history” (and here no doubt all the scientists researching aerial phenomena in Hessdalen must’ve uttered a nasty Norwegian expletive in front of their screens!) is actually two films wrapped into one: There’s the old footage filmed by George Knapp 10-15 years ago during his multiple visits to the infamous property located in the Uinta basin, which had never been shown in public because Robert Bigelow –the owner at the time of the ranch– never gave the green light to the project. And there’s Corbell’s recent footage, shot not only with the benefit of the modern technological advancements in the film industry, and also the benefit that the ranch is now owned by a different person –who briefly appears in the film, without revealing his identity– but also with the benefit of the traction that Knapp’s homonymous book had on the UFO community ever since it was published 13 years ago, and transformed the ranch into a sort of Paranormal Disneyland in the eyes of UFO buffs; a true interdimensional portal into another world, owned by a shadowy tycoon for nefarious purposes –because if he didn’t share the goodies with the rest of us kiddies, that made it instantaneously bad!
So, whereas Knapp, an award-winning seasoned investigative journalist working for many years for KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, knew the importance of aiming his stillborn documentary to the average audience –the ones who may not actually believe in the topic you’re presenting– and tried to present his information in a no-nonsense kind of way before the viewer lost interest or changed the channel, Corbell’s documentary on the other hand –with his fast-moving editing, the ‘tension-building’ white noise in the background, and all the ‘horror-film gimmicks’ that I honestly found out to be kind of annoying (maybe I’m just too old)– is releasing his documentary on streaming services for the true believers; the ones who have left their dog-eared copy of Knapp’s book covered with annotations, and know everything about all the people involved in this extremely complicated saga.
The end result, in which the film goes back and forth between the ‘old material’ and the ‘newer one’ in a non-linear way, would make it extremely difficult to follow to anyone who is still in UFOlogy 101; which is fine if you’re writing a book, because an author has the luxury of slowly making a case to the reader regardless of time –and if something is unclear the reader can pause and go back a few pages, or consult other sources– but with a film time not only becomes an issue, but your enemy. And if you don’t make your case as succinctly as possible during the allotted time the film lasts, then it doesn’t matter how many hours of ‘bonus content’ you provide alongside it –you either captured the interest of your audience in those 90 minutes or 2 hours, or they won’t stay for the ‘after-credit scenes’ before the lights are turned on.
I should probably mention at this point that I chose to rent Hunt for the Skinwalker instead of purchasing it for a variety of reasons (financial strains being one), but also because I wanted to approach the film from the perspective of someone with just a cursory interest in the subject –perhaps they wanted to know what’s this ‘bulletproof wolf nonsense’ they heard once on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast is all about– and thus I haven’t seen all the ‘extra material’ available to those who actually bought the film –and if someone says, “Oh, everything comes more clear with that extra footage!” then you just confirmed my point…
Hunt for the Skinwalker is thus aimed at the UFO hardcore audience. Which is in itself somewhat ironic, because not only are they the ones who might end up being more disappointed with it, they are also the ones who should ponder more heavily upon those ‘failed expectations’. What I mean by this, is that the ‘case’ the film tries to make is a bitter pill the true believers may not really want to swallow: That after 20 years, and a mountain of data gathered by NIDS –the National Institute for Discovery Science, a short-lived scientific institution founded by Bigelow for the purpose of studying the ranch and similar hotspots of high strangeness– there was no true ‘silver bullet’ gathered by them that could finally finish with the giant, frothy-mouthed wolf that is the UFO phenomenon. No footage of a triangular craft landing in full Hollywood-esque splendor, no photos of little grey men dissecting one of those poor cows and dogs kept at the ranch as guinea pigs, and no video of Bigfoot-like creatures strutting about the property after walking through a luminous wormhole. What Skinwalker represents is something more nuanced… and more challenging.
Speaking of ‘guinea pigs’, a few months ago I wrote an article about the possibility that security personnel working at the ranch were probably kept there not so much as to guard the property, but to serve as a sort of ‘bait’ for the phenomenon. The article managed to get the attention of George Knapp himself –he even briefly commented upon it on a recent podcast interview– and although he dismissed the possibility that the guards would be deliberately kept under wraps about what was really going on in the ranch –even though I still maintain that could still have happened, when the DIA got involved during the days when NIDS was replaced by another organization (BAASS) and with the military there is such a thing as a ‘need-to-know’ protocol– in the film Knapp is shown talking about how the phenomenon does seem to be ‘sparked’ by security-type individuals, and that guards were among the ones who experienced the most dramatic (and traumatic) experiences. He even mentions that he himself was used as a ‘guinea pig’ and left all alone sitting on a chair at a campfire one night (respect!) yet nothing happened to him then, or at any other time he visited the ranch.
Knapp is, indeed, the ‘main character’ throughout the whole film. A journalist who became forever involved with the appalling phenomena originally haunting the Shermans, a family of hard-working cattle owners who saw their lives turned upside-down when they found they shared their once-idyllic Utah ranch with a powerful ‘something’ that seemed to operate with a mischievous sense of humor –incidentally, in the film Knapp keeps referring to them as the ‘Gormans’, the fake name used in his book to protect their true identity, even though it was blown a long time ago. Is he honoring a pointless old pact of not telling their real name in public? If so, he briefly breaks it at one point during the film when the real name slips out of his mouth for the briefest of moments.
After the Gormans/Shermans sold the ranch, Knapp remained involved with it and with Robert Bigelow, who actually makes an incredibly rare cameo in the film, yet Knapp is the one who does most of the talking for him. Throughout the years there’s been lots of speculation on whether Knapp is on Bigelow’s ‘payroll’, and although I wholeheartedly believe him when he vehemently denies this, I also believe he became too personally involved with this story over the years, and as such he’s not able to look objectively at the actions of his friend, Robert Bigelow –the fact that he keeps painting him as an ‘unsung hero’ of UFOlogy who has spent more money on this subject than anybody, and gave all sorts of resources to MUFON which ended up ‘squandering it’, without bothering to mention the controversial Carpenter affair, is somewhat telling.
It is also this proximity to Bigelow that which forces Knapp to not comment what may or may not have happened to his old friend, as a result of owning and visiting the ranch. One of the most important moments of the film comes when the audience is introduced to the concept of ‘the Hitchhiker’, a term coined by NIDS researchers to describe paranormal phenomena which would occasionally ‘latch on’ a given individual, and follow him or her back to their homes, where it would disrupt their lives in all sorts of bothersome (and terrifying) ways: poltergeist haunting their kitchens, shadow people invading their bedrooms, etc. Knapp does confirm without elaborating —“I can’t tell ya!”— such manifestations did happen to Bigelow himself; thus, one is left wondering: is this the real reason why Bigelow chose to get rid of the ranch in the end, instead of the BS explanation that ‘the phenomenon had died down’? Because surely someone as knowledgeable in the paranormal as him would know fully well the activity tends to be cyclical. Perhaps he was more concerned with the idea of such activity messing up with other business enterprises of his –poltergeist messing up with your kitchen would be scary, but poltergeist messing up with your space station would be deadly…
Has the phenomenon been deadly ‘down here’ on planet Earth as well? Corbell’s heartfelt interviews with local neighbors Janice Poowegup and her son, would seem to suggest that. Although unverifiable, the medical condition of the people who live in the vicinity of the ranch makes the viewer suspect their health has been deleteriously affected by phenomena which has been present in this region since recorded history, if not longer.
In the past the inhabitants of the Uinta basin attributed such phenomena to the presence of supernatural entities, like the shape-shifting Skinwalker; today we ‘modern’ people want to ascribe it a extraterrestrial or interdimensional origin, but Hunt for the Skinwalker’s most clear –and perhaps devastating to some– conclusion, is that we still don’t know what the fuck is going on.
It is in that honesty that I find the value and redeeming quality of this film: In showing reputable academicians admitting in front of the camera that, despite all their expertise and their means at their disposal, they ended up finding out –the hard way– that the elusiveness of these phenomena is not amenable to the constraints of the scientific method. “The only consistency was the inconsistency of it” Colm Kelleher and Eric Davis –former NIDS researchers– keep expressing in front of the camera.
The question becomes, then: What’s next? If the scientific method was proven to be too blunt of a tool to cut through the thick bullet-proof skin of the Skinwalker mystery, do we discard it entirely an embrace more ‘esoteric’ approaches? Or would we be able to ‘sharpen’ our tool by improving it once we expand our current materialistic paradigm, and finally recognize –as Kelleher and his NIDS colleagues did– that Consciousness does play a bigger role in all of this than we wanted to admit, back when we still hoped we were just visited by extraterrestrials hailing from Zeta Reticuli? –who, despite their alien origin, still had a taste for beef and human nookie…
Another question arises, since Corbell insists in reminding us that Skinwalker became part of a bigger puzzle in the recently-revealed AATIP/AAWSA black Pentagon programs: Why is it that the people who were first involved in NIDS and then in BAASS –like Eric Davis and Hal Puthoff– chose not to be enrolled with the new (anonymous) owner, even though he claims his new operation learned from Bigelow’s past mistakes and are obtaining new information? Why not interview Luis Elizondo, who’s replaced Tom DeLonge as the new spokesman of the To the Stars Academy, to comment on it? Even if he may not have been directly involved with it, he probably knows about what was going on through his TTS colleagues, and such knowledge should inform their decisions with regards to the possibility to extract applicable information from the UFO phenomenon in general –if anything, they should be fully aware the phenomenon HATES being monitored, as was shown again and again in the Utah ranch.
And my final question, which I’ve been toying with even before I saw this film: What would have happened if, instead of shooting at point blank to it –with no apparent ill effect– Terry Gorman/Sherman and his family would have left that ginormous wolf to take that hapless calf on that fateful, misty morning? Would they have been able to ‘maintain the truce’ with whatever mysterious force resides in that Paranormal Disneyland?
Such are some of the questions sparked in the back of my head by Hunt for the Skinwalker, which despite its flaws remained an honest film aimed at the right direction of the discussion. And for that I’d still recommend it to hardcore UFO believers –even if they wouldn’t be able to dissuade any of their skeptic friends that ‘the bulletproof wolf was a bunch of bullshit‘ after showing it to them (even with the bonus content!). Probably no book or documentary film will be able to finally proof such things unequivocally, and chances are the Skinwalker will remain a mystery, long after the bones of our children’s children’s children take their place next to the dinosaurs and the other extinct species found in Utah.
Hunt for the Skinwalker is currently available on iTunes andVimeo on Demand.