Review: Red Riding Hood (2011)



There’s probably a list as long as Santa’s regarding things Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga is responsible for. We can now add ’inspiring fairy tale bastardizations’ next to the list. Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight film and the overrated Thirteen, returns here with a movie twice as half-baked as the vamp opus and  less entertaining.

There are surely good movies to be made from dark fairy tales, including Neil Jordan’s horror fantasy, Company of Wolves. Wolves was based on the work of Angela Carter, who has been deconstructiong and reforming such stories into twisted adult fiction for years. I wonder what she’d make of Red Riding Hood, which features Amanda Seyfried as Valerie, a wide-eyed Red who’s trying her hardest to bed the dewey-eyed woodsman while also trying, less hard, to discover the identity of the werewolf that murdered her sister.

Of course, we aren’t done yet. There’s another competitor for Valerie’s affections, a dolt named Henry, who looks like Peter the woodsman, but with less emo around the eyes. Add in Julie Christie as a hottie grandma, Billy Burke as the dad from Twilight, and Gary Oldman and his silver-plated fingernails, who rolls into town to smoke out the wolf. The main instrument in this effort: a giant metal elephant in which Oldman’s Father Solomon roasts the town people until they confess to the monster’s whereabouts. In order to sidestep the apparent awkwardness of this particular device, it’s explained dutifully by the script; ‘the ancient Romans once used it’. To be honest, I don’t have the diligence to google that particular ‘fact’, so I’ll leave it to you, dear readers.

The problems start early with this one. From the very first frame, Red Riding Hood suffers from an artificiality without artistry. The cinematography, the score, and the shabby sets that looks like Pennsylvania’s Dutch Wonderland are all underwhelming. If you are going to set your film in an imaginary fantasia, at least make the place one that convinces with a mystique or personality. Speaking of personality, it’s as absent in the performers as it is in the setting.

Seyfried is striking to look at and easily fulfills the ‘my, what big eyes you have’ part of the Red profile, but her Valerie never makes good on Seyfried’s ability to demonstrate both innocence and mischief simultaneously. The less said about the males in the film the better. Burke, falling flat in the Twilight franchise, Drive Angry, and now here, should possibly start considering community theater. Virginia Madsen is fine as Val’s mom, but seems completely exasperated with the dialogue and often looks like she’s considering just grabbing the woodsman and heading for the barn. Julie Christie is amazingly well preserved but her role is a howler. Gary Oldman stutters and spits his way through one of the most embarrasing performances of his career. I’d have paid someone handsomely to have inserted the line ‘GEET MEEE EVVERRYONE!’ into the scenes where he’s instructing his soldiers to chase the wolf.

The worst player in the cast is the werewolf himself, who  doesn’t even have the decency to be in all of the fx shots that require his presence. There are moments during the  big milieu, wherevillagers are running around stabbing at something and there’s just a big empty space where the monster should be. I suspect the diva was in his trailer, bitching to his agent that he hasn’t worked since 1984′s The Never Ending Story’ and this awful trash is all they could get for him. It doesn’t help that when the beast is onscreen for more than a few seconds he looks exactly like the Gramork crossed with Gumby, a bit of CGI tomfoolery that wouldn’t frighten a toddler. Also counterproductive to terror is his ability to telepathically talk to Val. He doesn’t even have anything interesting to say, just a riff on that old creeper addage ‘Come away with me. You won’t regret it, I promise.’

Fairy tales and their ilk are ripe for exploration and improvisation. I wasn’t opposed to the idea of this film. It could have either been a great imaginative exercise or a gloriously over-the-top B-movie. Right now, it’s neither, insisting so intently on taking itself serious. Valerie yearns for the woodsman, rebuffs the blacksmith–who apparently only turns out trinkets that look like they were made in s sweatshop in Indonesia–and freak dances with a few of her lady friends during the big community rave. This revelry is particularly confusing, as it looks like a blend of a Garbage video and a Ricolla commercial. Val doesn’t have a thought or an action that isn’t driven directly by the limp and threadbare script. The love story only inspired one thought from me; where does one find so much Vidall Sassoon in a medieval European village?

This is, simply put, an appalling movie. It works for no one; not the target audience it’s presented for, not for fans of fantasy, and not even for those who might just wish to ogle Amanda Seyfried for an hour or two. I’ve wondered why we haven’t gotten a legit Twlight spoof (Vampires Suck doesn’t count) but now, with Red Riding Hood, the point is moot. This is the spoof, highlighting the cracks in the vamp series and emphasizing the utter hollowness at its center. Of course, it does all of that with utter sincerity and is a casuality of its own stupidity.  Gene Siskel used to ask ‘Is your movie as interesting as footage of the same actors eating lunch?’ Red Riding Hood suggests a new inquiry; Is your movie as interesting as footage of LARPers performing the same script in an abandoned Renaissance Fair?’ Sadly, this time the answer is no.

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