Evidently, the success of the Twilight saga is having adverse effects on contemporary filmmaking sensibilities; perpetuating the stereotype that female audiences who enjoy romantic fantasy fiction do not deserve good genre material. After all, if the girls merrily consume Stephanie Meyer’s insufferable bullshit, why bother putting in the extra effort to make something better? Red Riding Hood represents a blatant attempt to cash in on the amazingly profitable Twilight series, with the powers that be doing everything possible to recreate the phenomenon. Catherine Hardwicke (who directed the original Twilight picture) was even hired to oversee Red Riding Hood, which contains several Twilight-esque elements: sweeping vistas, moody cinematography, digitally-created werewolves, a Twilight cast member (Billy Burke), and a story of a girl torn between two young studs who cannot act. Yet, with howlingly bad writing (har har), Red Riding Hood fails as a horror, a whimsical folk tale, and as a romance. It does, however, work on occasion as an unintentional, campy comedy.
Set in the isolated village of Daggerhorn which lies in the midst of a dense wilderness, Valerie (Seyfried) pines for local woodcutter Peter (Fernandez) but is conflicted by her arranged marriage to the wealthy Henry (Irons). Daggerhorn has been previously subjected to werewolf attacks, but animal sacrifice has maintained peace for twenty years. With Valerie on the verge of running away with Peter, tragedy strikes when the wolf kills Valerie’s sister and breaks the peace. Fearing for the village’s safety, the local priest turns to master hunter Father Solomon (Oldman) and his team of warriors to kill the menace. Soon after his arrival, Solomon lets the worried townsfolk know that the culprit may be one of them in disguise…
Red Riding Hood is a reimagining of the well-known folktale in the very loosest sense of the word. Strip away the title, the red cloak and a ridiculous dream sequence paying homage to the famous text (“Oh grandmother, what big teeth you have!“), and all that remains is a generic story about a generic village under a generic siege by a generic werewolf. Rather than anything approaching a Brothers Grimm fairytale, the film is more like Sleepy Hollow meets Agatha Christie with The Wolfman undertones and Twilight overtones.
Red Riding Hood is a dangerously slow movie, yet one cannot call the film deliberately-paced since that would suggest the sluggish momentum was intentional in order to generate tension and draw viewers into the story. Instead, this is just a cumbersome piece of filmmaking with zero thrills and a love triangle with all the heat of wintertime Antarctica. And for crying out loud, the love triangle serves no purpose outside of making it seem similar to Twilight. (All the more to bore us with, filmmakers?) There are no shocks to experience here, nor is there any no horror to scare us with, worthwhile romance to swoon over, or forward momentum to keep us engaged. Chances are you’ll fall asleep not long into the movie. And then when the horribly animated CGI wolf jumps out to growl at the camera, you’ll wake up just to laugh at how ridiculous it all is. The film’s concluding five minutes, meanwhile, are fucked up beyond anything that could be remotely construed as rational thought, and are unintentionally hilarious.
Every bone in Red Riding Hood‘s cinematic construction is adorned with the same characteristics seen in Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight film – it has a sleek sheen and a moody atmosphere that flirts with a dangerous edge, but the efforts are ultimately wasted on the soap opera-level storytelling. To be fair, this is at times a visually stunning film, and Hardwicke occasionally establishes a genuinely enthralling, accomplished atmosphere. Yet, too often the film descends into pure campiness. In particular, the wolf scenes make the film’s PG-13 rating amazingly obvious, bringing about an absence of genuine terror. Whenever the wolf is on-screen, it looks like precisely what it is: a digital creation. Filmmakers need to learn that practical effects and make-up generate a far more impressive and effective filmic representation of a werewolf. Even 2010’s subpar remake of The Wolfman succeeded on a visceral level because it had the freedom to be R-rated, and the werewolf was a practical creation.
Amanda Seyfried can impress when given the right material, but Red Riding Hood does her career no favours, with the script calling upon her to alternate between looking pensive and gazing into space. The rest of the performances, meanwhile, emanate absurdly forced sincerity and intensity. As Valerie’s two love interests, Max Irons and Shiloh Fernandez are nothing more than catalogue models pretending to be actors – they are admittedly handsome, but have zero presence and display no evidence of acting talent at all. Veteran actor Gary Oldman was also called upon to provide the material with some gravitas, but instead submitted an absurdly over-the-top, hammy performance destined to provoke unintentional laughs. It was an easy character for the star to pull off, and he sunk his teeth into it, causing a huge ruckus while the rest of the disinterested cast stand around waiting for terror to strike or for something challenging to react to. Unfortunately, Oldman’s character begins as someone interesting before the screenplay senselessly turns his Father Solomon role into a cookie-cutter villain we’re meant to hate. Zuh? Also present here is Julie Christie whose portrayal of Valerie’s granny lacks warmth, while Billy Burke is laughably hammy as Valerie’s father and Virginia Madsen is strong but underused as Valerie’s mother.
If the team behind Red Riding Hood merged a more convincing romance with genuine thrills and terror, it might have been worth revisiting the oft-told fairytale. As it is, the resultant film is a mess of scare-free horror, laughable romance, and animated mannequins trying to act. Not to mention, with a PG-13 rating rather than an R, a town dance number and a few bloodless off-screen maulings are about as graphic as the film gets. At least the campiness permits you to laugh at it from time to time, though.