A film review by Craig J. Koban June 22, 2011
RED RIDING HOOD
2011, PG-13, 100 mins.
2011, PG-13, 100 mins.
Valerie: Amanda Seyfried / Father: Solomon Gary Oldman / Father:
Auguste Lukas Haas / Grandmother: Julie Christie / Peter: Shiloh
Fernandez / Cesaire: Billy Burke / Henry: Max Irons / Suzette:
RED RIDING HOOD is very, very loosely based on the legendary folk tale by the Brothers Grimm, which is a polite way of saying that it is less concerned with being faithful to the source material and is more consumed with being an unabashed and all-too-obvious knock-off of the TWILIGHT romantic-horror formula.
The similarities between
this film and that aforementioned series are eerie:
You have a young, bright eyed, and virginal woman torn between two
beefcake adolescent men and a supernatural creature that steps in the way
of a potential romantic relationship.
To drive the comparisons home we have the director of TWILIGHT,
Catherine Hardwicke, serving as director for RED RIDING HOOD and we also
have the father figure from TWILIGHT playing…uh…a father figure in RED
I will say this, though: at least the teen heartthrobs in RED RIDING HOOD
keep their shirts on.
Okay, RED RIDING HOOD
essentially is about a young, red-cloaked girl having having a conflict with a sneaky and
cunning wolf, but that’s where the Grimm’s influence wears off
heavily. The film opens in a shot of
swooping, computer generated artificiality, which introduces us to an
unspecified wilderness where a remote village rests.
At this hamlet resides Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) who is hopelessly
in love with a poor, but dreamy woodcutter named Peter (Shiloh Fernandez).
Unfortunately for poor old Val, her mother (Virginia Madsen) and
her father (Billy Burke) have decided that she is to marry an affluent
young chap named Henry (Max Irons) that, despite his equally dreamy façade
to Peter, is someone that Valerie is not attracted to.
Valerie does try to confide in her grandmother (Julie Christie,
still a beauty at the winter of her life), but all she does is remain
Boy problems, however, are not
the only problem that Valerie experiences: Just as she is about to run
away forever with Peter, the big, bad, and dreaded werewolf that has been
terrorizing her village in the past has suddenly returned with a bloody
vengeance, taking Valerie’s older sister’s life.
A clan from the village band together to pursue the wolf into the
forest in order to slay the bloodthirsty monster once and for all, and they do in
fact return with the head of a wolf.
The town decides to throw a lavish party to celebrate the slaying
of the beast, which is crashed, so to speak, by the appearance of a
famous, Van Helsing-esque wolf hunter, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman).
He matter-of-factly reveals that they did not kill the real wolf.
Okay, so how does Solomon know
this? It seems that if the
real wolf was killed then it would have turned back into human form,
which it did not. The
inebriated and stubborn partiers refuse to listen to the Father's words, but they change their tune with the appearance of the real wolf
again into their village, and carnage predictably ensues.
Father Solomon also offers up another insight: Those that have been bitten by the wolf during the week of the
blood moon shall be cursed for eternity.
As a result, Solomon and his entourage brace for the next wolf
attack and prepare for the battle to come, all while Valerie and the
villagers become paranoid with the real human identity of the creature.
Is it Valerie’s grandmother?
One of her two male suitors? Her
father? Or is it someone else
altogether? Things get really
twisted when the wolf seem capable of communication with Valerie, which
makes the whole hellish situation all the more problematic.
If there were one thing that I
would compliment RED RIDING HOOD on it would be that Amanda Seyfried is a
limitlessly appealing, fresh-faced, and radiant on-screen presence that,
unfortunately, is perhaps a bit too good for this woefully mediocre
material. She is not complimented either by her two young male
co-stars, who combined are so lifeless, bland, and stoic that I almost
wanted to jump out of my seat, leap on to the screen, and slap some life
and charisma into the both of them. These
actors as well never tangibly feel like a part of the unnamed period of
the past contained within the film: they all feel too contemporary to
plausibly come off as a legitimately centered in this fairy tale
landscape. This has the
negative side-effect of making RED RIDING HOOD feel more like a cheap
high school costume drama ripe with flavourless actors from the CW
thespian camp than a magical, sprawling, and full blooded period piece.
The love story as fell hits
every methodical and mechanical beat in the book, which is not assisted by
dialogue exchanges so portentous that they come off as unintentionally
hilarious. Lines like “I could eat you up” or “I’m all wrong for
you” or “The only life I want is with you” make the exchanges
between TWILIGHT’s Bella and Edward feel borderline Shakespearian.
My favourite exchanges, though, are between Valerie and the wolf,
during which she, at one point, lashes at him, “I am nothing like
you…you murderer!” (outside
acts of wanton murder, I would say that the beast's lycanthrope appearance would
have been a dead giveaway as well). As
for the appearance of the wolf in general in the film, it is so lamentably
the product of rushed and unfinished CGI effects that you come away from
it feeling less threatened by the creature than you are genuinely amused by
The only character I
legitimately became engaged in was Oldman’s histronic, campy and
over-the-top turn as his wolf-ass-kicking man of God Solomon.
I believe that Oldman, one of our finest and most chameleon-like actors, truly felt that the only way to allow himself to be
symbiotic with this unintentionally silly film was to make the Father an
equally robust and absurd figure, and he certainly snarls, screams, and flails around in a performance that is almost sadistically
grandiose. Perhaps only
Oldman in full spitting, prancing, and scenery-chewing mode could utter his
character's inanely uproarious lines with enough gusto and theatricality to
make them passably entertaining. Consider
the following: “You will die now, beast!” or “The werewolf is still
alive!” or “Each wolf generation is more powerful than the next” or,
my all-time favourite from the film, “Lock him up…in the elephant!”
It’s kind of astonishing the
number of Oscar winning or nominated players in front of and behind-the-scenes
in RED RIDING HOOD: There’s Christie, Oldman, and Madsen as performers
and – what the hell!? – Leonardo DiCaprio serving as producer.
Not as astonishing or surprising is the reliably uncoordinated
directorial effort by Hardwicke (who annoyingly films everything with abrupt
and telegraphed close-ups, jerky editing, and amateurish pacing).
Aside from the listless and painfully dull love triangle in the
film, the central mystery of who’s the wolf is never once intriguing nor
shocking (the would-be large reveal at the end seems anti-climatic at
best). And, considering that
this is part horror/thriller film, there is not one genuine scare or
moment of modest intrigue all through RED RIDING HOOD, just a lot of
bloodless, PG-13 computer envisioned mayhem and mild teen-romance eroticism.
Hell, you’d at least think
that the set and production design would make up for all of these flaws.
No dice, because the sets and design here look so phony, so synthetic,
and so cheaply assembled that even the suspension of belief that this film
takes place outdoors is all but gone.
The double threat of RED RIDING HOOD is that it places monotone and
comatose actors within a world that lacks any evocation of magical
escapism. What we are left with is a perpetually silly, characterless,
and instantly forgettable TWILIGHT-esque effort, and considering the quality
of that film series, I’m not doing RED RIDING HOOD any favors by labeling
it as such.