‘Red: Werewolf Hunter’: not the camp classic you might have been hoping for

aroooo!

Somehow not a Criterion release.

Movies made for the SyFy channel don’t usually come my way, so when I got the email containing this assignment, I went to the Netflix site to read up on it. The synopsis there reads:

“The real-life descendants of Little Red Riding Hood are dedicated werewolf hunters, but Virginia “Red” Sullivan, her generation’s head tracker, faces a horrible conflict when her fiancé, Nathan, is bitten by a werewolf and she must protect him.”

This capsule description fascinated me because of how it manages, in fewer than 50 words, to regurgitate several leading genre franchises of the past few years. This is how you write a logline that sells, kids! Take a generous portion of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, add a whole lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, maybe season with a dash of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, substitute werewolves for vampires, and you have a strikingly ersatz potential pop culture franchise. (I can even imagine how every episode of the spin-off TV series would begin: “Previously, on Tracker…”) Premiering on SyFy in late 2010 as it did, the movie even anticipated Catherine Hardwicke’s big-budget Red Riding Hood by several months.

That summary, suggesting a movie that is uniquely, perfectly synthetic, is enough to temper a cinephile’s hopes of finding a diamond in the rough of cable-TV genre fare. The SyFy imprimatur alone might caution a viewer to approach Red: Werewolf Hunter with low expectations — or hopes for a camp classic. After all, this is the network that gave the world such works as Kaw! (evil crows!) and, everyone’s favorite, Sharktopus. I haven’t seen Sharktopus, but I like to recite the title to myself during times of trouble, just to remind myself that the universe has a sense of humor.

As if angling for Comic Con cred, the producers of Red: Werewolf Hunter were savvy enough to cast Felicia Day of The Guild and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog as their lead. Alas, their smart moves ended there. Directed by Sheldon Wilson, Red: Werewolf Hunter is hardly an unsung discovery, but it’s not really entertaining on the level of being a stinker, either. Instead it inhabits a forgettable middle ground, like too many sci-fi and horror movies these days.

On a film like this, the budget and level of craftsmanship are high enough that the end result is reasonably professional, but there obviously wasn’t enough money or time to put together any truly compelling action set pieces or spectacle, much as the script (by Brook Durham, based on a story by Angela Mancuso) might like to push things in that direction. You can see some penny-pinching at work in the special effects, especially in some rather silly werewolves that seem to be on loan from a video game.

But more of a drawback than the modest budget is the blandness of the whole production. A kind of inoffensive conventionality defines the proceedings: It’s not just that the drama and the star-crossed romance all play out like something you’ve seen before, but that there’s no spark of an individual sensibility, no sense of wit or mischief, no jolt of craziness to liven up the routine genre tropes, the way there might have been in some gutbucket grindhouse cheapie of several decades ago.

The capsule description for Red: Werewolf Hunter suggests a certain audacity, in that the filmmakers had no qualms about cribbing from so many hit franchises. But audacity is exactly what’s missing from the movie itself. A little loopy melodramatic excess might have brought the story of star-crossed lovers Virginia and Nathan to life, but Day and Kavan Smith don’t exactly burn up the screen in their scenes together. Alternately, a more self-aware script could have had fun with the basic premise: I have to kill my boyfriend because he’s a werewolf! Jesus!

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