– Summary –
Director : Catherine Hardwicke
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Lukas Haas, Michael Shanks, Christine Willes, Michael Hogan.
Approx Running Time : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: A village at the edge of the dark woods is plagued by the existence of a terrifying werewolf. A young girl, Valerie, is promised to marry a rich local boy, even though she’s in love with a poor woodsman. Upon the arrival of werewolf-hunter Father Solomon, the village’s secrets are slowly brought to light as the hunt for the creature intensifies – it is revealed that the werewolf is actually an inhabitant of the village itself.
What we think : Cloyingly daft, bereft of any kind of intellectual benefit to mankind save the evocative cinematography, Red Riding Hood is definitely a film destined for the bargain bin of Hollywood history. You know you’ve got a crappy product when even Gary Oldman seems to have lost interest about midway through filming.
About the simplest way I can review this film is to call it a mash-up of the Brothers Grimm and Twilight. It’s like Bella, Jacob and that sparkly douche all took a vacation into the imagination of our collective childhood and this is the afterbirth of that progeny. Director Catherine Hardwicke, who seems to be of the Terrence Malick school of film-making (without all the “let’s film the sky” wankery) in that it’s all about the look of the film rather than the story, has certainly put together a film that looks and sounds great: if only the characters were up to the challenge of delivering a great story. Red Riding Hood takes the famous story of the young girl in the crimson garb asking Granny why her teeth were so big, and remodels it for a modern, savvy audience. The end result is a film which succeeds in creating a mood and an atmosphere, surrounding a wooden, hollow story which has very little in common with viewers today. About as close to the traditional story this film comes is putting the lead female character in a red cloak, and having one of the male characters be a woodsman. About as close to a modern theme this film gets is having the central female character the object of affection by two equally handsome leading men (and I’m not referring to Gary Oldman) – something we’ve endured over the last several years in the equally inane Twilight franchise.
Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) lives with her parents (Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen) and sister in a village on the edge of a “dark wood”, a wood which happens to be populated by a vicious werewolf. After the sudden death of her sister via the claws of this werewolf after a decade or so of peace, the village is visited by the somewhat sinister Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a self-proclaimed werewolf hunter with the somewhat dubious back-story that he was forced to kill his own wife when he discovered that she too was a werewolf. Valerie is betrothed to local rich kid Henry Lazar (Max Irons, son of acting legend Jeremy Irons) in an arranged marriage; Valerie’s heart lies with another man – local woodsman Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), with whom she desires a life together. Outside of the village, in her isolated house, Valerie’s grandmother (Julie Christie) lives, and it is she who gives Valerie the red cloak of the title as a wedding gift. Father Solomon proclaims that the werewolf exists in its human form as one of the villagers, leading to a kind of Gestapo tactic to lock the village down in a kind of martial law – apparently, every thirteen years there is a celestial event known as the Blood Moon, whereby a werewolf bite does not kill, but instead transforms the bitten into a werewolf: of course, this film is set during the required period for this to occur. With Valerie struggling to reconcile her relationship with Peter and Henry, as well as fending of the attention of the enormous werewolf, Father Solomons plans to kill the best begin to manifest themselves at the expense of the lives of her friends and family.The race is on to discover the true human identity of the werewolf, before more lives are lost.
It’s patently obvious from about ten minutes into this movie just where it’s heading. It’s heading into some pseudo-Epic Romance mixed with Dark Fantasy, and Red Riding Hood fails in virtually every aspect. The film skirts some awesome potential to chill the blood or be absurdly stylish, before rushing headlong into some menage a trois twaddle with the emotional depth of bovine afterbirth. Red Riding Hood could have made a truly effective horror film, or at the very least a mildly entertaining action/adventure story, but it misses the mark by a wide margin. The central conceit of the werewolf is shoehorned into a film the producers hoped to use to drag in the Twilight crowd – the three way romance between Seyfried’s Valerie (seriously, they named her Valerie? Sounds like a trailer trash hooker compared to the cooler names the other characters have), Max Irons’ Henry, and Shiloh Fernandez’ Peter. This contradictory framework – romance mixed with brutal savagery and death – doesn’t work for the tone and style of the film, with Hardwicke struggling to make us believe either to its maximum potential. The story just does itself in knots with betrayal, twists and red-herring scattered throughout the movie, leaving little room for the character to develop beyond simple caricatures and the ultimate denouement to feel a little “meh”.
A note to fans of this film: I watched the “alternate” cut of this film, and although I’m not familiar with the theatrical version the majority of folks may have born witness to in cinemas, there’s little doubt in my mind that there’s not a lot that could have been done to salvage either version from being a gargantuan misfire. I suspect (and I have no evidence to back this up) that the major addition to the “alternate” cut might have been the utterly pointless, passionless sex scene right at the very end (I want to make a point of bringing this up now, because I’m gonna tear it a new asshole in the next couple of paragraphs) and for that, I guess we can thank puritanical censorial American attitudes and their “rating” system. A couple of tits are obviously way more offensive or unsettling than seeing somebody defenestrated on-screen. The film isn’t overly bloody, truth be told, save for a moment when a major character has his hand bitten off, and the majority of the deaths come blessedly off-screen. Considering this decided lack of blood in a film marketed as one quite scary and action-packed, for me this should mean the dramatic moments of the film need to pick up the slack. They don’t.
I swear to God by all that is holy, if Hardwicke directs another film where there’s a trio of lovers all bitching about how they all have deep feelings for each other, and they all look like they just stepped out of some sort of modelling catalog, I’m gonna hurl my own feces at the screen. This film reeks of that same pretentious lovey-dovey shite that the original Twilight film blighted upon society – and this film wasn’t even touched by super-hack Stephenie Meyer, so we can’t blame her. If you transpose Valerie for Twilight’s Bella, then Peter could pass for Jacob and Henry would be the Edward figure, ensuring the eerie similarities are pretty well hammered into the audiences minds by the time the obligatory werewolf shows itself. In yet another problem for Hardwicke – aside from signing onto this project in the first place – is that she can’t direct their romantic dialogue moments to save her life. It doesn’t help that the dialogue in this film is so laughably bad it makes George Lucas look positively Shakespearean, but neither the two male leads have the screen presence to create believability, nor do are they able to make the wooden dialogue feel natural coming out of their mouths. Screenwriter David Leslie Johnson, whose past credit was 2009’s highly-average Orphan, garbles the focus of this film with his tin-ear for teen romance: I think he was aiming for modern feeling within the films ye-olde-timey style, but it clunks to the eardrums with the subtlety of the music they use in porn.
Putrid dialogue aside, the film has other issues to contend with. There’s an amazing heavy handed feel to the leaden plot arc each character takes, almost as if the film was “join the dots” constructed, and as the movie goes along you can just see all the required genre boxes being ticked. Among the major issues I had with the film was the crazy notion to end the film with a sex scene. You read that right – this film concludes with two character engaging in coitus (such a cool word brought back into the mainstream by The Big Bang Theory – I plan to use it more often) in what can only be described as the stupidest plot device I’ve seen in the last few years. The film is essentially over – the werewolf is defeated, the romantic triangle is resolved, the village is safe, and Hardwicke decides to spend a full minute or so with two major characters having some sort of resolution-crazed sex? Not to mention the fact that it’s the dead of winter and the entire scene is set in three feet of snow! I dare you to turn to your lover at that point and ask – like I did – if that would be “romantic” in anyway. Go on, I dare you. The point of this moment is lost amongst the cool cinematography and the chance to gaze at Seyfrieds near-nude body, and I admit that I actually started laughing at this stage. I actually burst out laughing. The crazy dialogue and terrible contrivances the film endures can’t prepare you for this moment, one of cinemas most obtusely inconsequential sex scenes in recent times.
As far as the cast go, only screen icon Gary Oldman is able to summon any gravitas or respectability from it all; and even he looks like he’s just said “screw it” by the half way point. Oldman bellows his way through the film with little nuance, such is the generic dialogue he’s forced to spout, and equally legendary Julie Christie seems like she can’t quite believe what Hardwicke’s making her do in this movie. Billy Burke, a holdover from Hardwicke’s Twilight casting, does well as Valerie’s father, while Virginia Madsen looks completely lost as the mother – you can literally see her face change expression the moment she realizes just how shitty her character is written. Lead actress Amanda Seyfried is wide-eyed and innocent as Valerie, and to a degree she does hold the film together with some convincing acting; it’s momentary though. Max Irons looks for all the world like a long-time screen performer, and I have to say he did a lot better with the rubbish dialogue and terrible character development than his direct romantic opponent in Shiloh Fernandez, but you put shit between two pieces of bread and it’s always going to be a shit sandwich. Fernandez certainly looks brooding and werewolf-y, but he’s lost amongst the dazzling sets and better actors – of the entire cast, Fernandez is where the casting comes undone.
If there’s one redeeming factor to consider in this film, it’s the production values. The set design, the costuming, and the original score by Brian Reitzell and Alex Heffes are all evocative and top class – far exceeding the storytelling ability of Hardwicke as a director, and it’s only for these facets of the movie that I could ever recommend it. The cinematography is glorious, about the only faultless factor in the film, with the glint of white snow, the dark shadow of werewolf night, and the soft pallor of Valerie’s tender skin by firelight – Red Riding Hood certainly looks awesome. As most folks will tell you, looks aren’t everything, and the failure of Red Riding Hood to convey genuine menace, sweeping breathless romance or serious drama in any way, shape or form, indicates a predictable inability of Hardwicke to be anything other than a collector of fabulous imagery without a soul. Which is a shame, as this film certainly lacked nothing if not potential. Had Hardwicke decided to eschew the cloying romantic angle (don’t get me wrong, I like a good romance if it’s done well) and sold us on a straight-up period thriller, or out-and-out horror film, things might have turned out better. I guess somebody saw the critical reception for the recent Wolfman remake and decided it might be better to market their film at the tween crowd by throwing in a threesome. Worked well, I guess.
Red Riding Hood stands out as a decidedly average film, a criminal waste of talent and a dent in the credibility of Hardwicke to direct a film with any lasting legacy. I guess if you are easily scared, or highly bored, this film might find you as an audience, but I wouldn’t count on it. Stupid dialogue and bad narrative decisions robs the film of the iconic power the original story would give it – hell, the moment we get the old “Granny, what big eyes you have” I gave up entirely and started viewing this thing as some bizarre parody – which in itself is an enormous shame. If you want to see a revisionist version of Red Riding Hood, I’d go watch Hoodwinked instead. You’ll even get a laugh out of that.
What Others are saying about Red Riding Hood:
The Focused Filmographer felt much the same as we did: “It is unfortunate that director Catherine Hardwicke choose to stick so close to Twilight when directing Red Riding Hood. As opposed to paying tribute to the original fairytale, there lingers a much more greater tribute to the highly hormonal teenage fantasy of Twilight instead. “