Skinwalkers (2002 film)

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DVD cover of Skinwalkers (2002 film).jpg
Wes Studi and Adam Beach
Directed by Chris Eyre
Produced by Craig McNeil
Michael Nozik
(executive producer)
Robert Redford
Rebecca Eaton
Written by James Redford
Based on Skinwalkers
by Tony Hillerman
Starring Adam Beach
Wes Studi
Michael Greyeyes
Alex Rice
Misty Upham
Music by BC Smith
Cinematography Roy H. Wagner
Edited by Cindy Mollo
Distributed by PBS
Release date
November 24, 2002 (2002-11-24)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Skinwalkers (2002) is a mystery television film based on the novel of the same name by Tony Hillerman, one of his series of mysteries set against contemporary Navajo life in the Southwest. It features an all-Native American cast, with Adam Beach and Wes Studi playing officers Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn.[1] It was produced as part of the PBS Mystery! series, filmed on the Navajo reservation and directed by Chris Eyre.

The film was the highest rated program of 2002 on PBS. It is the first of three television films based on the same series of books, the other two being adaptations of A Thief of Time and Coyote Waits. It was repackaged in 2016 with the two following films as Skinwalkers: The Navajo Mysteries on Netflix.[2]


Joe Leaphorn (Wes Studi), a seasoned cop accustomed to the city ways of Phoenix, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, has returned to the Navajo reservation. His wife Emma (Sheila Tousey) is recovering from cancer and feels rejuvenated by the landscape and people of her homeland. Leaphorn is less sure about their return. Well schooled in urban policing, he is soon confronted with a particular Navajo case: a mysterious killer who has a special antipathy for medicine men. Leaphorn works with a partner Jim Chee (Adam Beach), an FBI Academy grad who is also training to be a traditional Navajo healer.

Roman George's body is found miles from his abandoned truck and surrounded by ancient symbols etched in blood. A local archeologist holds the key to the symbols he left behind, so Chee and Leaphorn pay him a visit at a nearby Anasazi ruins. There, these partners find further clues indicating that the murderer may be a "skinwalker," a Navajo witch with the power to shape shift, or change from human to animal, move with lightning speed, and to kill with curses. Fearing that his mentor, Wilson Sam (Saginaw Grant), will be next, Chee convinces the medicine man to hide in a nearby motel.

As Chee juggles the day-to-day police work on the reservation, Leaphorn tracks down clues to the identity of the evasive criminal. More ancient symbols are found at an abandoned paint factory, where a local gang has been congregating. What do the signs mean? Who is sending these messages in blood? Could the murders be linked to the old Dinetah Paints scandal and lead poisoning in the region? Chee does not have much time to mull these questions over, before finding himself in the killer's crosshairs.[3]


Executive producer was Robert Redford with his son James adapting the screenplay from Tony Hillerman's novel of the same name.[4] It was directed by Chris Eyre and filmed at the Navajo Reservation. (Eyre also appears in the film as a Tribal Judge.) The film is a co-production involving Redford's Wildwood Enterprises, PBS, and the British television company Carlton Television.[5]


The film had a television rating of 4.2 on its November 24, 2002 premiere,[6] the highest rated show on PBS in 2002 with an audience of approximately 12 million viewers.[7]

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