The Good: Direction, Moments of performance
The Bad: No character development, Most of the acting isn't stellar.
The Basics: The supernatural mystery in Red Riding Hood far outweighs the love story, making for an erratic film that scores higher on style than substance.
Back in March, I was very eager to go out to the movies - whatwith coming out of the February Doldrums with the hope that some of the movies being shown might actually be good - and one of the few things that was out that I wanted to see that I did not make it to was Red Riding Hood. I had seen some previews that made it look decent and one of the first dates my now-wife and I had back in the day was seeing Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight (reviewed here!), so I wanted to go. Stupidly, I had read a blurb to my wife, which had said that part of the premise was that Valerie - the protagonist - was in an abusive relationship. That was enough at the end of winter for my wife to not want to see it on the big screen, so we didn't.
Having just finished the movie with my wife, whomever wrote that blurb ought to be out of a job. There was no terrible relationship, nothing particularly scary or gory or even steamy in Red Riding Hood. In fact, most of the movie, I spent waiting for it to pop, waiting for it to become something. Instead, it floated by and while my wife and I periodically guessed who the wolf was, neither of us was particularly emotionally invested in what the answer might be.
Daggerwood is a small village that puts out sacrifices on the full moon to appease the local werewolf that stalks then. Valerie is a young woman who lives in Daggerwood with her father, sister and mother, while her grandmother lives well outside the village in her own home. The young Valerie grew up with Peter and actually showed more of a killer instinct than the boy did, especially when it came to hunting. Now, though, Valerie has been promised to Henry in marriage and she and Peter are working to get out of the village when the first werewolf casualty in thirteen years is discovered . . . Valerie's sister.
In addition to striking fear into everyone and inspiring a hunting party to go off and kill a wolf in the mountain cave, this brings Solomon to the village. Solomon is a werewolf hunter and he is correct in declaring that they villagers have gotten their first attempt wrong. After the werewolf attacks again, Solomon begins a hunt for the actual werewolf that puts Valerie into real peril.
Unfortunately, Red Riding Hood looks better - though very much like Twilight than it actually is in any way good. Even the style points I would be prone to give it are undone by the fact that the plot is so fractured that I became more bored with the movie. Indeed, I was much more interested in how I recognized the actor playing Auguste - he's Lukas Haas from the beginning of Inception (reviewed here)! - than the mystery of who the werewolf is. The problem with Red Riding Hood is that the film is so erratic that it is not consistently a mystery enough to actually become engaging.
So, what starts as a love story quickly becomes a hunt then a paranoid mystery before degenerating into a pretty pointless action-adventure story. The problem with Hardwicke's film is not that it changes from one thing to another, but rather that it shifts abruptly, as if she were handed acts from three or four different scripts and she just went with it. Henry's character has a moment right near the beginning where he abruptly pushes Valerie away and it comes after he shows interest, so there is a feeling of missing an important transition.
On the character front, the movie is similarly erratic. Peter begins the film with Valerie as children where they playfully entrap a bunny. It is Valerie, then, who wants to kill the rabbit, and Peter who is squeamish and has a deep humanity that makes him not want to kill. Without any explanation for what might have happened in the intervening decade, Peter suddenly seems much colder. Actually, his character's fault comes into pretty clear relief when he goes from wanting to run away with Valerie to inexplicably snubbing her. There seems to be no point in this, save to have Valerie and her female friend do a fairly steamy dance together.
This brings us to the acting. Hardwicke has a fairly decent cast with Amanda Seyfried, Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen. But Gary Oldman outshines them all, especially the two leading boys - Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons - who are especially white bread. Oldman plays Solomon as a pragmatic hunter and he becomes the most likable and consistent character in the film.
Seyfried, who may usually be counted upon to deliver an interesting performance at the very least is surprisingly dry as Valerie. Despite claiming to have passion for Peter, she does not illustrate it very well and she does not infuse the role with any real sexual chemistry or charm.
Ultimately, that is why Red Riding Hood fails. It is not a bad film, it is adequate. But it never becomes anything more than simply a very average film. That seems insulting in this day in age when the extraordinary is possible on film. Of course, that starts with a good script and Hardwicke does not seem to have been given a compelling one from David Johnson, so it is somewhat understandable if the rest of the pieces did not fall into place.
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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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