Red: Werewolf Hunter airs tonight, October 30th, at 9pm on SyFy.
Felicia Day is “Joss Whedon hot.” That is, she belongs to a certain specific class of actors and actresses who have benefited from being involved with Whedon projects. It's not that Day, Amy Acker, Jewel Staite, Alyson Hannigan, Enver Gjokaj, or James Marsters aren't perfectly good-looking people on their own. It's that Whedon has a gift for writing strong characters who manage to match the acting talents of the people portraying them, which makes them seem attractive as characters as much as looks. The passionate Whedon fan base fills in the rest.
Day got her start as a Potential Slayer in the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though her role was relatively unmemorable. It did start her professional relationship with Whedon, which eventually led to her starring role in the web sensation Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. This, combined with her increasingly well-known World of Warcraft-based web series The Guild, raised Day's profile tremendously. Thanks to her legitimate love of nerdy pursuits like MMRPGs and her girl-next-door attractiveness, she's become something of a nerd sex symbol. This isn't the worst niche in the world, and Day has exploited it well: The Guild's “Do You Want To Date My Avatar?” video has over 13 million views on YouTube.
The presence of Felicia Day as the star of Red: Werewolf Hunter is pretty much the main reason we're covering this otherwise ordinary-looking SyFy monster movie. After all, we're all geeks here, right? And so it was that I went into Red: Werewolf Hunter with very few expectations, and I'm unsurprised, if slightly disappointed, to say that those expectations were met.
Day plays Virginia “Red” Sullivan, who brings her fiancé Nathan (Kavan Smith) to visit her family, deep in rural North America. There, she introduces him to her two brothers, the smartass Jake and the hardass Marcus, as well as her wise grandmother (unnamed in the film). The smartass/hardass/wise character traits are just about the extent of their character development. Nathan, on the other hand, is defined early on when he answers his cell phone during a vacation, and Virginia complains that he had promised to keep it off during their vacation. And as we all know, in movies, excessive cell phone use means that someone is kind of a jerk. Nathan doesn't grow much beyond continuing to be a bit of a jerk. Virginia's character is defined almost exclusively through her concern for the others, particularly Nathan.
The Sullivan family are an old family of werewolf hunters, who have lived with a nearby pack of werewolves in an uneasy truce for several years. That calm is broken by the ascendance of the werewolf Gabriel, who has the ability to shapeshift anytime, not merely during the full moon. He seizes control of the pack and a nearby abandoned town, in addition to biting Nathan. Red's werewolf mythology includes the twist that if the werewolf sire is killed before the next full moon, then the person with the bite won't turn into a werewolf, adding some measure of tension to the proceedings. The problem is, Day and Smith have no real chemistry, and give us no real reason to care about their relationship.
As for Day herself, she does demonstrate more range than the naif/badass she usually plays. She struggles with showing vulnerability (one supposedly romantic kiss is especially frightening), but she's much more believable in her family interactions. She's also got a lot of walking around in black clothes, looking badass to do. If you liked her character in Dollhouse, most of Red will be pleasantly familiar.
All this character and plot development is handled economically within the first twenty minutes or so, leaving the duration of Red for the titular werewolf hunting. From this point on, characterization comes to a halt, and the dialogue turns into little more than barked orders and exposition. Some of the ensuing action sequences are tense and well-done, but the film is over-reliant on its soundtrack to cue that tension. The late-90's industrial rock-style soundtrack ranges between laughably excessive, such as when it veers into straight-up metal in the first big werewolf fight, and laughably bad, repeating the same theme constantly during every preparing-for-the-fight scene.
Red: Werewolf Hunter is a difficult movie to grade, although it's fairly easy to recommend or not. If you're looking for some unchallenging pre-Halloween action/horror, it's fairly fun to riff on. If you're expecting anything more than that, though, you may want to watch Ginger Snaps again. And if you're a fan of Felicia Day looking intense while wearing leather jackets, then it's practically your Citizen Kane.