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Not Bad, For What It Is
on March 27, 2011
Let me start by praising the look of this film, especially its nightmare fairy tale wilderness village and Peter Jackson-inspired sweeping landscapes. The designers create a lush, evocative screen image that captures the imagination without overpowering the actors. Without doubt, I haven't seen a better looking film than this one in quite some time. Even the costume and makeup people keep the actors looking good without forcing an artificial glamour.
I'd rather start that way because I refuse to become one of those critics who savages somebody else's film because it doesn't suit my tastes. I'm not among this film's target audience, and chances are, if you've fallen in love more than once or watched more than seven horror films, you aren't, either. This film reaches out for people who enjoy uncomplicated romances and have a very low scare threshold.
Director Catherine Hardwicke knows her young, wide-eyed audience, and delivers what they expect from a romantic fantasy with horror overtones. Pretty, willful Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) embodies 21st Century America in medieval Bavaria. She loves Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a woodcutter who broods around the forest like an unemployed Robert Pattinson impersonator. But Valerie's mom (Virginia Madsen) thinks she'd enjoy a better life with the prosperous but uninspiring blacksmith, Henry (Max Irons).
But a werewolf besieges their village. When the wolf slaughters Valerie's sister, village life unstitches. Unscrupulous Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) starts hunting witches, while Valerie discovers her uncanny connection to the monster. Is Peter or Henry the wolf? Or gentle Father Auguste (Lukas Haas), simpleton Claude (Cole Heppell), or Valerie's reclusive grandmother (Julie Christie)? Veteran filmgoers know the answer is "none of the above," but the revelation genuinely surprised me.
This film accomplishes all its goals, and accomplishes them stylishly to boot. If it didn't reward an adolescent view of love and worked as hard on creeping dread and psychological horror as it does on "boo" moments, it would achieve possible greatness. Unfortunately, it pitches to its audience's expectations, and no higher. For what it is, Hardwicke presents a pretty good film. You decide if "pretty good" is good enough.