Movie Review: Red Riding Hood
By Matthew Huntley
March 18, 2011
The previews for Red Riding Hood make it look like a romantic, atmospheric horror movie, but it’s actually a silly, laughable stinker with WB-channel standards. It’s being promoted as “from the director of Twilight,” but that’s a bit of an understatement; it’s not just the same director, but also the same amateur production values, sub-par acting and hokey drama. Director Catherine Hardwicke has managed to take a classic fairy tale, which wasn’t very deep or complicated to begin with, and dumb it down for an attention-challenged, teeny-bopper audience. In the end, I felt cheated because it seemed like the opportunity to make a real movie wasn’t taken seriously.
As the title suggests, the movie uses Little Red Riding Hood as inspiration for what is essentially a romantic fantasy. Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is the title character and free-spirit heroine who’s been in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) ever since they were kids. We first see them trapping a rabbit together and deciding which one will kill it. Ten years later, Peter, now a wood chopper, tells Valerie that her mother (Virginia Madsen) has arranged for her to marry Henry (Max Irons) because he comes from money. But Valerie would rather elope and run away with Peter.
Just as they’re about to leave, the village bell rings, and Valerie stops in her tracks and says, gaspingly, “The wolf!” Yes, the wolf that inhabits the surrounding dark woods has attacked again, and this time the victim is Valerie’s older sister. Apparently the monthly sacrifice to the wolf isn’t good enough anymore.
The men of the village, including Valerie’s father (Billy Burke), form a posse to hunt down the animal, but this is no ordinary wolf they’re dealing with. As the mysterious Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) points out, this is a werewolf and it takes human form during the day. That means any one of the villagers could be the rampaging killer. Solomon also explains it’s the period of the red full moon, and if the wolf bites you, its curse is handed over and you become one.
The story adheres to the broad strokes of the original Little Red Riding Hood folk tale, complete with the dialogue, “Grandmother, what big eyes you have!” But it has been dressed up into a cheap melodrama that doesn’t demand a whole lot from its cast or the audience. It’s a lazy, superficial production that always seems to be in a rush.
This is just my observation, but the movie seems to have taken on the qualities of its intended audience - say, 13-18 year-old teenage girls - who always appear in a hurry and who are always text messaging their friends. They live in sort of a “it just can’t wait”-type world, which is how Red Riding Hood plays out. It’s so eager to get to the romance and wolf violence that any chance of it building tension or atmosphere is tossed aside. Rather than patiently observe or bring any credit to the characters, the movie only cares about capturing the really frenetic moments. It’s like the filmmakers were afraid they’d lose the attention of the audience unless something sensational was always taking place on screen. The movie is full of payoffs but no set ups, which means the payoffs don’t really matter that much.
In a movie like this, the actors are just pretty faces. Amanda Seyfried is a stunning beauty, but I’m afraid her looks are the only reason she was cast. To her defense, though, no one is really given the chance to act in any great capacity, not even Julie Christie as the grandmother. The screenplay doesn’t really offer the actors much as far as dialogue or behavior. Outside of the wolf plot, in which Valerie finds she can communicate with the beast, the drama revolves around the love triangle between her, Peter and Henry, which is obviously meant to recall the Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangle from Twilight.
Another problem is the movie’s design. The sets look cheap and unconvincing. Every shot looks like it was captured on a soundstage with no real effort to make the environments look distinct. In the village, all the compositions are tight and the camera never goes wide enough to get a real idea of the space. I was anticipating, and even hoping for, the same level of craftsmanship that went into Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, but the ambition is just not there.
Not that I want anyone to lose their job, but I hope Red Riding Hood doesn’t do very well at the box-office. I would hate for it to start a new trend in Hollywood in which every classic fairy tale gets adapted for the big screen and all the characters possess modern-day sensibilities. If it happens to perform poorly, perhaps it could be a sign that such adaptations require more thought and observation - that they actually tell real stories requiring the audience’s full attention.