“How was Red Riding Hood?” my husband asked when I returned from the screening.
“It was … —I chose my words carefully— … kind of like Twilight, but medieval. And … worse.”
“Bad CGI and lots of blank stares?”
DING DING DING! My husband may be clairvoyant, since, to my knowledge, he hasn’t even seen Twilight.
Red Riding Hood is billed as a lush, epic fairy-tale thriller. It’s directed by Catherine Hardwicke, the woman who launched a thousand—OK, more like a billion—angsty sparkle vamp worshippers with her big-screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s lusty YA juggernaut. It has sweeping shots of dark, wooded vistas. It has a wide-eyed, rosy-lipped heroine and a sinister, sharp-toothed villain (and I’m just talking about Gary Oldman). All signs point to a movie that should be, if not good, at least a guiltily pleasurable waste of a lazy Sunday. But as it turns out, not all fairy tales make good features, and Red Riding Hood is especially thin on plot. The original tale involved little more than a young girl traveling to her grandmother’s house, but the bloated big-screen version isn’t much of an improvement.
Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) lives in the remote village of Daggerhorn, which has been terrorized since time immemorial by a werewolf who lives, Grinch-like, in a cave above the town. By setting out a pig or goat for sacrifice each month, the villagers have formed a pact with the beast that ensures its populace will remain uneaten. But one day, while Valerie is cavorting in the woods with her childhood crush Peter (Shiloh Fernandez, who resembles a boy band version of Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl), news spreads that the wolf has killed Valerie’s sister. The menfolk form an angry mob straight out of Beauty and the Beast while the women stay behind, braiding the corpse’s hair. Valerie is stricken, not only because her sibling is dead, but also because her parents (Virginia Madsen and Billy Burke) have arranged for her to marry Henry (Max Irons), the son of a well-to-do family, instead of her humble woodcutter soul mate. Within the first five minutes of the movie, Seyfried’s pale, rosebud face and giant, watery eyes have settled into an expression of constant surprise.
The remainder of the film—almost two hours—is a drawn-out witch hunt. A jittery priest (Lukas Haas) summons Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a famed mythical beast slayer whose own wife turned out to be a werewolf (he carries her severed hand around as a souvenir). After letting the Daggerhornians pussyfoot around for a bit, drinking mead and performing folk dances until the wolf returns during a “blood moon” to rack up a more impressive body count, Solomon announces that the wolf is among them, a shape-shifting impostor who must be snuffed out. What follows are a lot of suspicious close-up shots of everyone from Peter to Henry to Valerie’s own hippie-dippy grandmother (Julie Christie). Who could it be? At least we know it’s not Valerie, because the wolf can talk to her. Oh, did I forget to mention that shark-jump?
Aside from its heavy-handed whodunit cinematography and occasionally ludicrous plot twists, Red Riding Hood suffers from an utter lack of humor. The script is hopelessly wooden, laboring under the assumption that, before there was indoor plumbing, people were also deprived of self-awareness, innuendo or polytonality (judging from Peter and Henry’s gravity-defying hair, though, it seems Dippity-Do was plentiful). The wolf—arguably the film’s make-or-break element—isn’t remotely frightening once it steps into frame, and once it opens its mouth, any lingering fear will be replaced immediately by laughter. What’s even worse is that the big reveal falls flat. When we find out which character has been moonlighting as the werewolf, it feels disappointing and nonsensical. But the payoff for sitting through this ridiculous period piece does come, in a final scene that makes an unintentionally hilarious reference to bestiality. I knew you had it in you, Red.
Red Riding Hood (R) ★★☆☆☆