Red Riding Hood
Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Lukas Haas, Julie Christie, Shiloh Fernandez
(Warner Brothers; US theatrical: 11 Mar 2011 (General release); UK theatrical: 11 Mar 2011 (General release); 2010)
“Grandma…what a massive amount of flop sweat you have…”
What little girl doesn’t hear the story of little Red and her riding hood and reinterpret the famed fairy tale into some tawdry excuse for implied bestiality? What female adolescent doesn’t lay in her lonely, misunderstood bed at night and dream of having “intimate relations” with a CG wolf whose seductive human eyes burn right through her? While Goths go on about sex with the dead, and the rest of tween nation pines away for the latest YouTube sensation, the creative minds behind Red Riding Hood want to sell you a silly bill of goods suggesting that nothing tweaks a gal’s heart than a couple of lifeless hunks, a witch hunt, a blasphemous dose of The Crucible...and, of course, ‘getting down’, lycanthrope style.
Clearly concocted to go head to head with a certain sullen Cullen crew, this aimless atrocity argues for the artistic bankruptcy that is Hollywood 2011. Guillermo Del Toro can’t get $150 million bucks to turn an HP Lovecraft classic into a R-rated Tom Cruise horror action thriller, but they can fork over $42 million to turn the Brothers Grimm into supernatural slash fan fiction? Right. What’s next - a gay-themed excursion for the three now metrosexual little pigs and their own big bad bi-curious lupine? As a prime example of jaw-dropping badness, as an excuse to work through a dozen failed Freudian fetishes, it’s impossible to defend this nonsense. It’s as if someone challenged the studio to make as dumb a movie as possible and they came back with something with a single digit IQ.
The story - if you can call it that - has our heroine reset inside a failed Renaissance fair deep in the impenetrable mountains of Moviemythland. There, the newly christened Valerie flirts with bad boy woodcutter Peter while being promised in marriage to fancy pants blacksmith Harry. (Harry…Peter…get it?) Anyway, their backward backwater burg has been plagued by wolf attacks for generations, and the local priest believes that a visiting cleric can cure them of the animal ills that ail them. Upon arrival, weird witchfinder general Fr. Solomon has some bad news. There’s no ordinary creature haunting their wicked woods. It’s a werewolf, and only a blade of silver can stop it. Of course, the populace pooh-pooh this concept and go about with their superstitious pagan sacrificial rites. Then the beast shows up, starts speaking telepathically to Valerie, and suddenly chunky girls are screaming ‘black magic’...
Things just get more preposterous from here. Amanda Seyfried suffers through a script that has her psychically betrothed to monster, the rest of the narrative struggling to fit the parameters of the familiar bedtime story into a murder mystery mixed with a lesser Van Helsing. Who the werewolf is becomes a kind of circumstantial guessing game, a few facts about the fiend meshed with who actually shows up during a full moon to make the potential players all the more obvious. By the end, it’s not a question of identity, but how - how anyone over the age of 10 could be fooled by such a stupid “twist.” The other big how query is the kind of blackmail Hardwicke and the gang have on the workers at Warner Brothers to warrant the advent of such a cinematic crime.
In retrospect, it probably seemed like a smart decision. Director Catherine Hardwicke had shown about all the skill level she had when she turned Stephanie Meyer’s phenom vampire romance into a middling movie, all source material aside. Even when Twilight went on to be an unimaginable mega-hit, the filmmaker was shown the door, her shoddy services no longer needed. Yet money talks in the wacky film biz, and it’s hard to ignore the apparently plentiful discretionary income of hormonally confused something-year-olds (and some ‘should know better’ soccer moms). So along with Orphan scribe David Leslie Johnson and a producer nod from superstar Leonardo DiCaprio, Red got the green…light.
Of course, the more things change creature feature wise, the more Hardwicke’s direction stays the same - and that’s horrid. The entire film is an exercise in the unnecessary close-up, Seyfriend’s cherubic porcelain battling Oldman’s aging crevices for clumsily composed frame space. The actors try, but they are uniformly flat and uninvolving. When she’s not giving the casts’ pores the once over thrice, Hardwicke is also showing just how cheap and fake a near $50 million film can look like. Sets are crafted from unfinished Wicker Man leftovers, and there is a forest filled with spiked trees that are either purposefully faked by the locals for protection, or so badly rendered that we can see the Ed Wood like awkward additions to the bark.
Like listening to an alcoholic deadbeat dad read a knock-off version of the famed fable to his inattentive, angry offspring, Red Riding Hood is no fun. It takes itself so seriously that it forgets that something this outlandish needs some manner of lightness or levity to make it tolerable. There should be some camp or kitsch factor here, not the desire to rewrite a story’s entire heritage. As she proved with Twilight, Hardwicke is a questionable mythologian at best. Giving her another crack at the concept proves that desperation is a disease in the modern movie world. Something like this would have been shuttered to the back spaces of a direct to video release, gore and gratuitous nudity added to make the sell through/rental that much more commercially viable. Here, we get a regressive romance reverse engineered for the interpersonally unsophisticated.
If it makes money, if it wets the little girls untapped sensual wanderlust, then Red Riding Hood will be nothing more than a misunderstood disaster embraced by the very demographic it was built for. But should it earn the rampant disrespect it so readily deserves, this might be the end of the whole ‘freak as fantasy’ genre. Parents still use these closeted cautionary tales as ways to teaching their children such shorthand life lessons. Thanks to the new media manipulation of same, our kids are going to be even more confused. Red Riding Hood is a joke. Sadly, what it says about our current entertainment ideals is not.