RED RIDING HOOD – The Review
There’s a reason why many classic fairy tales have stood the test of time. From one century to the next, children find comfort in these stories which often include life lessons-don’t stray from the path, listen to your elders,and so on. Since the beginnings of cinema, filmmakers have used these tales for motion pictures. Most were adapted into short films until Walt Disney made his feature length animated film debut in 1937 with SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES. This opened the floodgates for other studios (and Disney himself) to bring these fables to theatres in full-length films. Aside from a 1963 Mexican live action version and a part of the animated HOODWINKED, Red has not gotten the full big budget screen treatment until now. But Red is not ” little ” this time out. The makers of RED RIDING HOOD have decided to explore more fully the sexual subtext of the tale and so the heroine is now a girl in her late teens on the cusp of womanhood. The big question is whether this simple story can be stretched over ninety minutes.
This fable begins many years ago in the village of Daggerhorn, tucked away in a snowy mountain range. The heroine, Valerie, is off to fetch water when she is surprised by her young friend Peter. They romp away into the forest where they find a rabbit that has been caged in their wooden trap. The two then dare each other to be the one to slit the bunny’s throat! Cut to the townspeople tying up a piglet to a tree stump in the town square. It is an offering to the wolf that haunts them during the time of the full moon. The story then picks up many years later when now teenage Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) surprises Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) as he takes a lunch break at his woodcutting job. It seems that their childhood friendship has blossomed into love. Unfortunately Valerie’s parents (Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen) have promised her to Henry (Max Irons), the son of a wealthy family. Later Valerie discusses this with her grandmother (Julie Christie) at her home away from the village, deep in the forest. Grandmother then gives her a bright crimson, hooded cloak. The next morning after the first full moon the villagers discover the wolf’s human victim: Valerie’s older sister! The young, jittery village priest, Father Auguste (Lukas Haas) announces that he has sent for an expert in destroying beasts. The men of the village will not wait. They will venture into the woods and kill the creature. Entering a dark, deep cave, the men are separated when the wolf appears. The next day at the tavern the men proudly display the wolf’s head on a spear. But their victory has come at a price – Henry’s father was killed by the beast. The celebrations are soon ended by the arrival of the “expert”, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) along with his soldiers. He explains that the wolf is not the guilty party. A werewolf has been the cause of their troubles. When killed the wolf reverts back to it’s human form. Solomon then shows them the human hand of a werewolf he killed-his own wife! It turns out that the next few days is a particularly dangerous time. Every thirteen years the planets align to produce a red, or “blood”, moon. During this time anyone bitten will share the werewolf curse. Solomon believes that the werewolf lives among them in the village. The men brush off his claims and decide to have their big celebratory festival in the village square that night. Of course, there’s no way anything terrible will occur during their party!
First I should give a shout out to the positives of this film- the set direction and costuming are first rate. Daggenhorm is a vaguely Bavarian medieval town and the village square and cottages are right out of classic childrens’ book illustrations as are the clothing (which are not helped by the contemporary hairstyles). The rest of the film is a major misfire. Catherine Hardwicke has made some great modern day films (THIRTEEN and LORDS OF DOGTOWN), but really has a difficult time in this ancient setting and with the supernatural elements (as she did with TWILIGHT). She relies heavily on the old horror standbys of things jumping out from out of frame and cranked-up sound effects. David Johnson’s (ORPHAN) script clumsily goes from young lovers pulled apart by their folks to a “who’s the werewolf” mystery straight from the old 70’s B-movie THE BEAST MUST DIE. The many good actors involved here can’t save this disaster. Seyfried’s been an engaging screen presence especially in the adult, thriller CHLOE. Here’s she seems to have taken a couple of steps back in teen scream queen territory. Her large expressive eyes are always on full display here. Fernandez and Irons are the required sensitive bad boy and wimpy rich good boy respectively. Madsen is given little to do as the tough matriarch while Burke’s character is the ineffectual, drunken dad. The still radiant Christie is completely wasted in the role of the wise grandmother who knows more about the best than she admits. Oldman is always interesting to watch. Here he’s the only one in the cast affecting a vaguely German accent. Perhaps that was a way to keep himself interested in this project. He gets to flash his sword and bellow instructions to his crew, but his character is so completely evil as to be a parody. It’s a shame that the producers didn’t try to go for a bit more humor. As the film plays, all the humor is unintentional. Almost like one of Ed Wood’s epics. Unfortunately this film is not nearly as entertaining. What should be a fun riff on a classic story becomes a somber, sluggish march into teen supernatural romance land.