Red Riding Hood
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In a medieval village a beautiful young girl falls for an orphaned woodcutter, much to her family's displeasure. When her sister is killed by the werewolf that prowls the dark forest surrounding their village, the people call on a famed werewolf hunter to help them kill the wolf. As the death toll rises with each moon, the girl begins to suspect that the werewolf could be someone she loves. Panic grips the town as she discovers that she has a unique connection to the beast--one that inexorably draws them together, making her both suspect...and bait.
This is not your grandmother's Red Riding Hood. There's a basket of goodies (not exactly the edible kind), a sweet grandma, a winsome young lass in a beautiful red hood, and a Big Bad Wolf. But there the similarity ends. This Red Riding Hood is shot through the lens of the Twilight films--for wide appeal to the tween and teen audiences, and definitely not a bedtime story for the little ones. Helmed by Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, Red Riding Hood bears a lot of the moody trademarks of the vampire series. Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), the plucky girl in the stunning cape, lives in a tiny medieval village whose geography is not specified--it's just very mountainous and remote. Valerie's heart belongs to her childhood friend Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but as Red Riding Hood opens, she learns she has been betrothed to Henry (Max Irons). As if that love triangle weren't enough, it seems a dangerous wolf--or is it werewolf?--has been terrorizing the town for years, and its killing sprees have intensified. When the townsfolk kill a wolf, they think they have finally freed their town from tyranny, and throw a giant bacchanal--like Burning Man in the snow. But then Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, in wickedly good form) appears on the scene to tell the villagers they've killed only a gray wolf--not, in fact, the werewolf he knows is the true villain.
So the romantic pulls of Valerie, Peter, and Henry play out with a backdrop of true chills and mystery. The atmosphere created by Hardwicke, along with production designer Thomas E. Sanders and cinematographer Mandy Walker, is perfect for a goose-bumpy horror story with teen hearts caught in the balance. The set design of the village, especially, is rich with detail--even the trees in the surrounding forest seem to have branches made of threatening spikes. Seyfried is willful, passionate, and perfect as Valerie, and easily anchors a film that could have spun out. Other standouts include Virginia Madsen, Valerie's mother who has a dark secret in her own past, and Julie Christie as Valerie's rather peculiar grandmother. All Twilight fans, and those who love a good tale of star-crossed (or perhaps full-moon-crossed) lovers will enjoy Red Riding Hood. Just don't go walking in those big bad woods alone. --A.T. Hurley
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I really wish I could have been in the pitch session. I believe it went something like this:
"We're going to do a movie."
"What kind of movie? We've never done a movie before."
"How about...and updated fairy tale? With costumes? Set in a vaguely Renaissance village?"
"Yes! Everyone loves movies with costumes. The viewer always feels...smarter for it."
"Right. Now, which fairy tale? Not Cinderella..."
"No, that's been done to death."
"JUST got done."
"Oh, yeah. Wait! I know...Red Riding Hood!"
"YES! A girl...a wolf...a red cape. PERFECT!"
"But wait...if this is an update...maybe we should....."
"MAKE THE WOLF A WEREWOLF? BRILLIANT! We'll be like all those other movies that have used werewolves so well. You know, Harry Potter...Twilight. We'll be just like them."
"Good, yes, so we have the werewolf, we have the fairy tale, we have the red cape. We need music."
"We have nothing in the budget for music."
"What do we have lying around?"
"I've got some 80's synth music still programmed into my Casio keyboard."
"Weird....but I like it! It's going to give the movie and even MORE updated feel."
"Okay, how about a cast?"
"Yes, we need someone who's good at costume movies."
"Gary Oldman is available."
"EXCELLENT! He's great. Who else? I know...Virginia Madsen goes to my pilates class. I'll ask her!"
"She's not exactly known for her period acting."
"Doesn't matter. She's great, and she has a recognizable name. NOW, we need some young talent."
"Oh, there are young actors lying around here someplace, find a couple of good looking ones and plug them in anyplace. Oh, and maybe they should have...I don't know...British accents?"
"Because don't all these period movies have actors with British accents?"
"Well, yes. But remember, this is an UPDATE of the original....so...AWAY with British Accents! Only the most American accents needs apply."
"But, I sort of promised Max Irons he could have a part."
"Max Irons...Jeremy Irons' kid."
"Oh, yes, well, he is good. And he's the sort of face the young girls will like. Okay, see if he can tone down his accent. And we'll make a fantastic movie that young girls will love."
"I thought we were doing a serious update of a timeless classic."
"Are you kidding? We don't have that kind of time or money. Just make a good trailer. Now go out there and make something really, really awful!"
So be aware that RED RIDING HOOD is a period teen romance with supernatural creatures, none of whom sparkle. Beyond that, it's mildly entertaining with okay performances by Gary Oldman and Julie Christie. They're only okay, which is a shame, but the movie isn't about them. Neither is it about Lukas Haas (didn't he die of an overdose of Pop-Rocks in Vietnam?) who has an odd part to play. All of the acting is serviceable but there's nothing exciting about it. Again, it's all about the teens and even though they're pretty, they're nothing to write home about.
Oh, I forgot to mention the plot of RED RIDING HOOD. Here goes: A teeny-weenie medieval village is terrorized by a werewolf. Gary Oldman is a sort of Grand Inquisitor cum Van Helsing who arrives to save the day. Madcap mayhem (and teen love) ensue.
I gave RED RIDING HOOD a 3 because I recognize that I am not the target demographic. If you're a veteran of more than 25 summers, you might want to steer clear of this one. Peeping Toms, on the other hand...
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.