Once upon a time, not so long ago, in the land of fantasy, otherwise known as the motion picture industry, a fair damsel thought she’d shoot a new version of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”. Catherine, of the house of Hardwicke, would make sure that her version was different and darker than the original, but she was held captive by the Wicked Witch of Bad Acting and her brother the Warlock of Weak Scripts. Try as she might, she could not escape their evil clutches, so her film Red Riding Hood
succumbed to its flaws.
The film, which is set in a vaguely European medieval village and the surrounding forest , was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, and fans of Twilight will notice the similar sweeping aerial shots of tall evergreen forests on mountainsides. Actually, the scenery is one of the few strong points of the film. The village setting looks very fairy-tailish with wooden log house and buildings with thatched roofs. There’s even a village idiot. There is much cooking at hearths and much carrying of water from the town square well and the brook in the forest. The forest is appropriately green and shadowy with the occasional sunny clearing. However, when the protagonist Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who receives a red cloak from her grandmother as a gift, approaches grandma’s house, the trees all have weird-looking, very large spikes sticking out of them. The spikes play no part in the story and are obviously fake, so they detract from the otherwise appropriate setting.
Valerie’s parents , Cesaire (Billy Burke) and Suzette (Virginia Madsen), have arranged a marriage between her and the wealthy Henry, played by Max Irons who should probably seek another career path. There really are no good performances in this film, but his stands out as one of the worst. Valerie, of course, loves someone else – Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a poor woodchopper like her father. He is of course darkly handsome and much manlier than Henry. Complicating everything is the fact that the village is terrorized by a werewolf whom they try to appease with animal offerings. It has, however, returned to killing humans. The local priest Father Auguste (Lucas Haas) sends for the werewolf-killing expert, the cruel Soloman and his entourage. Gary Oldman hams it up shamelessly as Soloman; he’s not even trying to give a serious performance. And considering the weak dialogue of the script, I hardly blame him. Another usually good performer, Julie Christie, gives an uneven and confusing performance as the grandmother. Soloman informs the villagers that the werewolf could be anyone, male or female, and of course these dim-witted villagers have apparently never noticed anyone missing during full moons, so everybody suspects everybody. The wolf communicates that the village will be left in peace if Valerie will go with it. By the time the werewolf’s identity was finally revealed, it felt anticlimactic, not to mention manipulative. The ending of the film makes little sense, but neither did most of the story, so that, at least, was consistent.
There is little to like about this film. It almost felt as if it had been re-cut to get the PG-13 rating because some scenes strongly suggesting that some bodice-ripping was about to occur seemed to end abruptly and illogically, and given the amount of violence in the film, there wasn’t much blood and gore. Also, even though it seemed interminable to me, it ran shorter than the two hours listed in the press materials. Apparently, Hardwicke thought that an excessive number of close-ups of Amanda Seyfried’s unusually large eyes, opened wide and staring, was an effective way to increase suspense. One more of those, and I would have been compelled to run from the theater.