Red Riding Hood
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Screenplay by David Johnson
Amanda Seyfried as Valerie
Gary Oldman as Solomon
Billy Burke as Cesaire
Shiloh Fernandez as Peter
Max Irons as Henry
Virginia Madsen as Suzette
Lukas Haas as Father Auguste
Julie Christie as Grandmother
Running time: 120 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality.
Director seeks fairy tale success on the heels of ‘Twilight’ franchise, churns out small-scale failure.
Director Catherine Hardwicke was ousted from the Twilight franchise after the first film—and it appears she’s still bitter about it. This weekend’s release of Red Riding Hood, starring wide-eyed starlet Amanda Seyfried and the venerable Gary Oldman, bears too strong a resemblance to the vampires-and-werewolves flicks to be ignored. While the Twilight franchise (love it or hate it) has engaged the minds and hearts of teenage girls everywhere, Red Riding Hood is not even an epic failure. No, it’s just a disappointment. What should have been a soaring, ambitious fairy tale ends up feeling contrived, stilted, and boring.
Red Riding Hood follows pretty Valerie (Seyfried), a resident of medieval village Daggerhorn (we never find out where the village is but it doesn’t really matter), as she strives to decide between two honorable young men, bad boy Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and wealthy Henry (Max Irons). Unlike Bella Swan, Valerie isn’t just a clumsy girl; she killed a rabbit when she was a little girl, and that makes her hard, you see. A werewolf stalks Daggerhorn by the light of the full moon, accepting sacrificial livestock and terrifying the townspeople. When the wolf murders Valerie’s sister Lucy, town priest, Father Auguste (Lukas Haas), sends for hardened werewolf-killer Father Solomon (Oldman) to best the creature. Commence the whodunit aspect of the film: is the wolf mysterious Grandmother (Julie Christie), or bitter friend Prudence (Kacey Rohl)? It could be anyone—and the movie’s one saving grace is that you probably won’t expect the outcome.
Hardwicke specializes in sweeping shots of beautiful scenery, and the opening sequence of Red Riding Hood emphasizes this. Beyond that we see very little of the setting; the movie is softly lit and halos surround our main characters. Cinematographer Mandy Walker produced some pretty tracking shots, but the dynamic camera is dizzying at times, its constant movement an obvious ploy to keep us involved despite a waning plot. Though production designer Thomas E. Sanders assembled a convincing medieval village, all solid wooden points and wrought iron bars, the film looks manufactured due to patently artificial lighting, brightly colored (and immaculate) costumes, and snow that doesn’t melt upon contact with human skin. All this could serve the fantastical element of the material—Little Red Riding Hood is of course a fairy tale—but it ends up feeling forced.
Screenwriter David Johnson, whose one prior writing credit was the hilariously mind-boggling Orphan (2009), penned a script that’s as stilted as it is ridiculous. Characters are so superficial as to be entirely unbelievable, and modern dialogue just doesn’t fit the setting. Lines like “I must be God, because you’re the Devil!” are just plain trite—and sometimes baffling. The last movie to strive for modern-day depictions of sexuality, utilize contemporary speech patterns, and underscore a medieval celebration with pop music was A Knight’s Tale—and it didn’t turn out so well. (Here’s hoping Your Highness manages this better.)
Hardwicke may be trying to bank on the success of the franchise she began making; according to IMDb, shirtless heartthrob Taylor Lautner was considered for the role of Peter, and Billy Burke, who’s by far the best part of the Twilight flicks, plays Valerie’s father. Further, the first Twilight movie didn’t yet deal with werewolves (or shapeshifters, for you Twi-hards who might be reading), but it introduced a story that would become about a weak, obnoxious female protagonist waffling over two boys who loathe each other but inexplicably love her so very much. All of this material is present in Red Riding Hood, plus some. Max Irons, offspring of silky-voiced Brit Jeremy Irons, has no discernable personality, and Fernandez may be yet another Robert Pattinson—someone Hardwicke fell in love with during auditions because of his blasé attitude. Poor Oldman, who hasn’t taken a good leading role in years, seems to scoop up whatever’s thrown at him these days; the man is undeniably a brilliant actor, but even he phones it in as the ostensibly evil Father Solomon. Finally, Seyfried, who was lovable in Mean Girls and good on “Big Love,” appears bored out of her mind throughout the film.
Despite a great supporting cast including Christie, Oldman, Virginia Madsen, and Michael Hogan (known to “Battlestar Galactica” fans as Saul Tighe), the movie falls short by a long shot. Red Riding Hood’s source material is a truly creepy folk tale with which every schoolchild is familiar, its setting apparently lovely and fantastic. It boasts a good cast and a talented director (Hardwicke, remember, gave us the great indie Thirteen). Somehow, the flick that should have been an epic ends up being epically boring. Perhaps this is why Summit decided Hardwicke wasn’t right for Twilight; Hardwicke’s seminal film has a distinctly small-scale feel compared to New Moon and Eclipse. The best part of Red Riding Hood is the trailers—in some theaters you’ll see a brand new (and awesome) trailer for J.J. Abrams’ secretive-til-now Super 8, a new preview for Wes Craven’s Scream 4, and another for the Zack Snyder vehicle Sucker Punch. Hopefully the next few months will bring us out of the springtime doldrums and into some new and satisfying material.