Thursday, March 10, 2011
Review: "Red Riding Hood"
Was the world really crying out for a sexed-up version of "Little Red Riding Hood," with the naive young girl transformed into the carnally curious town tart pursued by two pouty-lipped bad boys?
This is a strange, dreary and stubbornly un-entertaining reboot of the ancient fairy tale about a little girl who meets the big, bad wolf. Granted there were always sexual undertones to the legend, but this is like the Brothers Grimm by way of "Twilight," with ancient forebodings about creatures of the night used as grist for the mill of angsty teenage lust.
The "Twilight" comparison is an obvious one, since director Catherine Hardwicke helmed the first film in that franchise, before getting the boot/quitting in frustration (depending on who you ask). Rumor even has it that Shiloh Fernandez, who plays the main flame to Red Riding Hood's Amanda Seyfried, just missed the cut to play vampire dreamboat Edward Cullen.
Fernandez is a promising young star, appearing in films no one's seen like "Deadgirl" and "Skateland." But he's ill-used here, hanging around mostly as boy toy eye candy and to tempt Valerie, aka Red, into thinking he might be the werewolf stalking the village.
In fact, most everyone Valerie meets is suspected at some point of being the hirsute killer, with the result that "Red Riding Hood" plays out like a Gothic whodunit.
Is it Peter (Fernandez), the humble woodcutter who secretly stole Valerie's heart when they were children? Or Henry Lazar (Max Irons), the wealthy (compared to the rest of the town) blacksmith's son to whom Valerie's parents (Virginia Madsen and Billy Burke) have promised her hand in marriage?
Or maybe it's good old grandmother (Julie Christie) living in her remote cottage in the woods, making odd elliptical comments and brewing strange concoctions in her boiling cauldron.
The screenplay by David Johnson is a case study in misdirection, tempting us with one candidate after another for the role of the werewolf who's plagued the village of Daggerhorn for generations. Some characters, such as the timid local priest (Lukas Haas), seem to exist solely for the purpose of spreading the suspicion around.
The Daggerhornians have existed in peace with the beast for 20 years, offering their prime livestock as sacrifice every full moon. There's been no human slayings, until Valerie's sister turns up dead, and after a few tankards of ale the men folk decide to put an end to the curse once and for all.
They bring a wolf's head back on a stake, convinced they've won, but then Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) arrives in town to set them right. Solomon's a real piece of work, who carries around a Van Helsing-like arsenal of weapons but also a zeal for smiting evildoers that's straight out of the Inquisition.
Solomon's dedication to lycanthrope-hunting is so hardcore that he slew his own wife when he discovered she was a werewolf, and carries around her severed hand in an ornate wooden box to prove his bona fides. Or maybe he's a just a seriously screwed-up dude.
Hardwicke shoots with a dream-like quality, making the movie seem as if it shimmers around the edges. Her stylistic choices often spill over the top, though, as in every tree and building sprouting spikes that we keep expecting stuff to get impaled on. Or the big feast scene where the young'uns break out into some sort of squirmy medieval lambada.
Like the rest of "Red Riding Hood," it's meant to be sensual, but instead is profoundly silly.
1.5 stars out of four