A film review by Craig J. Koban June 22, 2011

RED RIDING HOOD j
½ 

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: Virginia Madsen

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke / Written by David Johnson.

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 RIDING HOOD.  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 frustratingly neutral. 

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 it. 

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!”  Don’t ask. 

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.   

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