Title: Red Riding Hood
Directed By: Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Lukas Haas, Julie Christie
Twilight fans and haters alike beware; the big bad wolf is coming. It isn’t good-looking like Taylor Lautner and isn’t frightening in the least. Basically, it has no place being in a horror film or in a Catherine Hardwicke movie. Then again, after Red Riding Hood, Hardwicke might have a tough time holding onto whatever clout she has left. Who’d have thought going to grandma’s could be such a nightmare?
Amanda Seyfried is Valerie, Hardwicke’s version of Little Red Riding Hood. She lives in a remote village of the woods plagued with fear courtesy of the local werewolf. When Valerie’s sister becomes the beast’s latest victim, the men arm up and head out to hunt it down. They return triumphant, or so they think. Amidst their celebration, Solomon (Gary Oldman) and his men barge in to inform the townsfolk that that’s no werewolf head they’re dancing around, rather that of a standard wolf and that the real beast is still among them.
Whether the residents like it or not, Solomon is here and now he’s in charge. He takes it upon himself to track down the beast by any means necessary. Further complicating the situation, the town is under a blood moon and should anyone be bitten by the werewolf under that moon, they’re destined to become one themselves.
A dark twist on a classic fairytale? Great idea! Putting it in the hands of Hardwicke and writer David Johnson? Not so much. In terms of the script, it’s really just the structure that’s a bit of a mess. In addition to the werewolf craze, a key storyline involves Valerie having to choose between two men, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), the guy she really loves but her mother doesn’t approve of, and Henry (Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons), her chosen suitor and the guy that can give her a better life. First off, in order to have a successful love triangle, both men must be fighting for the woman. Henry gives up far too easily. Not once do you ever suspect Peter might not get the girl. Secondly, and more importantly, the situation is so poorly woven into the main plot, it becomes more of a distraction than an element used to up the tension.
The scenes themselves are also far too short and the entire piece lacks proper transitions. At one point, we’re fully engaged in a bar scene only to be yanked out and thrown into an entirely unrelated location. There’s never enough time to gestate and appreciate a moment. Further enhancing this issue is Hardwicke. It’s quite surprising to see her resort to such remedial filmmaking tactics. Not only does she have zero sense of camera placement, but the camera movements are atrocious, too. There’s such a heavy hand on that lens, it’s impossible to feel as though you’re more than a mere viewer. Even worse, the film lacks shot progression. Rather than save the close-ups for the climax of a scene, Hardwicke and her editor are busy slapping close-ups and wide shots together haphazardly making the tension level flatline.
As for the performances, they’re not all that bad; it’s just that the actors don’t seem to know what they’re doing. Virginia Madsen is merely a placeholder, filling in the position of Valerie’s mother while Valerie’s father (Billy Burke) isn’t developed enough to handle his value in the story. Irons can’t seem to find his footing in this medieval time period while Fernandez just gives a leer and calls it quits. The only actress who nestles into her role quite convincingly is Julie Christie as Valerie’s grandmother. Not only does the character benefit from Christie simply knowing how to act in a period piece, but the moments between Valerie and her grandmother are some of the better written of the bunch. Perhaps if the earlier portions of the script were more successful, the duo might have been able to pull off the scene in which they recite classic dialogue from the original fairytale.
It’s such a shame that Seyfried’s face is the one plastered all over this film. What a waste of talent. She’s one of those actresses that can say nothing at all and still have an impact. Yes, that ability helps to a point here, but it’s suppressed significantly by poor image composition and inadequate direction.
Further dragging Red Riding Hood down is the production design. Yes, Hardwicke might have been going for that simple and foggy Twilight look, but here, the color palette is too rich. Tack on props that, well, feel like props and oddly designed costumes and Red Riding Hood looks more like a stage play than a film set in a somewhat fantastical time zone.
To top it all off, Red Riding Hood is flat out boring. These 120 minutes feel like an eternity. Again, poor editing is largely to blame as are the excessive amounts of one-on-one conversations shot in a painfully flat manner. Then again, even the action scenes are quite dull. They’re short-lived, poorly covered and actually entail quite a bit of walking. Had the film moved a little faster, it could have been the slightest bit entertaining, but instead, we just get a slew of uninteresting images slapped together arbitrarily that move along at a snail’s pace.
By Perri Nemiroff