In previous reviews I have explained my love of terrible movies. Sometimes nothing is more fun than watching a bad romantic comedy or a poorly written action movie. Other times, however, a bad movie is just a bad movie and there is nothing really enjoyable about the awfulness. Such was the case with Red Riding Hood.
Red Riding Hood tells the tale of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), a strong-willed maiden in a remote village cursed with a werewolf problem. She's on the verge of running away with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), her childhood sweetheart, when she learns that the werewolf has struck again and that she has been betrothed to Henry (Max Irons), one of the richest bachelors in town. What is a girl to do? In the second act, the story dabbles with becoming a thriller as the beast is back and they villagers are not entirely sure why. Enter Solomon (Gary Oldman), a somewhat evil priest-like figure who turns the quest to kill the werewolf into nothing short of a witch hunt.
Fortunately, I had some girlfriends with me for movie night, forcing me not to walk out within the first fifteen minutes. There the three of us sat, jaws dropped, taking turns exclaiming, "Seriously!?" or "Are you kidding?" For the chorus of critics worried about the message Twilight sends to young audiences, here is a new foe. Perhaps my biggest issue with Red Riding Hood is that the theme or moral of the story is so confusing, and that in the end it sends bizarrely out-of-touch messages about family relationships and romantic ones. Here again we have a girl stuck between two young men, but the love triangle is less complex and the emotional journey is less explored. Plus, Freud would have had a party with the ending. I seriously question whether screenwriter David Johnson and director Catherine Hardwicke gave much consideration to the emotionally charged issues they were dealing with or even with the complicated fairytale tradition they were drawing from.
In some parts they nod toward the original "Little Red Riding Hood" stories, but mostly the movie is a departure into its own fairytale setting. The movie largely falls back on shopworn standbys: the too-perfect maiden, her entourage of silly gal pals, her wise grandmother, the badboy she's in love with, and the rich guy she's been betrothed to against her will. It all feels so stale because the audience is simply fed what they've rightly come to expect from fairytales without any play with the conventions. When the story dips into thriller territory, it becomes slightly more compelling but far more confusing. The parts of the tale don't work together and the pacing is off so that it was actually difficult at times to keep track of what was going on.
With a script this bad, it's hard to blame the actors for poor performances. Regardless, a few people did actually do a good job. As Grandmother, Julie Christie is wonderful, but when is she not? She is mysterious and warm and the kind of grandmother you'd want in a fairytale. As young Father Auguste, Lukas Haas is possibly the most complex character in the whole story. As Henry, Max Irons manages to emote something deeper than the trite stock character he plays, but just barely.
Maybe it was stale popcorn or the cheesy story, but I started to feel a little nauseated in the middle of Red Riding Hood. My best guess is that the complete excess of handheld camera work is to blame. While it's not quite as bad as The Blair Witch Project, the jostling of the camera to simulate the perspective of the wolf and the dramatic swooping pans across the village in other scenes were just entirely too much. It looked like amateur filmmaking a lot of the time.
Red Riding Hood had some potential in a couple of areas. If it had been more of a fairytale horror and less of a supernatural fairytale romance ala Twilight, it could have been so much better. The scary scenes are by far the most artfully made. One in particular, shot through the eyeholes of a torture mask Valerie's been forced to wear is creepy and beautiful. Other shots are artfully crafted as well, but pretty isn't enough with a script this awful.
I rate Red Riding Hood 1/5 stars, and I'm being generous.
Red Riding Hood was written by David Johnson and directed by Catherine Hardwick. It runs 100 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality.