By Comtesse de Bussy
Red Riding Hood
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Michael Shanks, Gary Oldman
Release date: March 11, 2011
It seems that updating classics and age-old stories has become something of a fad. Only a few years ago the film Brothers Grimm was released, and three more films, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Brothers Grimm: Snow White, are in the works. Not to mention all of the Disney cartoons that transform the original, often dark material into a colorful, sugar-coated, happy-ending cartoon with music whose soundtracks will sell hundreds of copies. Such movies rarely retain the core of the story they tell, and instead become an excuse for an entirely different kind of tale, one that takes away from the screenwriters the necessity of coming up with an entirely original plot, characters, and setting. This seems to be the case with Red Riding Hood, a film in which the story of a young girl and a wolf are used as an excuse to create a Twilight-esque tale in which a beautiful young woman must choose between two men. And the real shame is that this could have been a good movie, but instead got stuck with a terrible plot and an atrociously ridiculous setting.
Red Riding Hood is a fantasy film directed by Catherine Hardwicke (of Twilight fame — or lack of it), from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson. It tells the story of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), a young woman living in a medieval village, Daggerhorn, somewhere in Europe where there’s snow and mountains. The village is plagued by a werewolf, who comes each month and must be given the best of their livestock. To add to Valerie’s problems, she is in love with the poor woodcutter Peter (Michael Shanks), while her parents wish her to marry the wealthier Henry Lazar (Max Irons). The film begins with many shots of a non-descript European forest, in the style of Hardwicke’s shots of Forks in Twilight. They are entirely non-exciting and not particularly beautiful either. We then see a scene with a very young Valerie (about the age she is actually supposed to be in the fairy tale) running off with Peter instead of coming straight back after fetching water. This is supposed to hint that Valerie is some kind of “bad girl” who, like Bella from Twilight, is drawn to bad boys — or, at least, ones she isn’t supposed to be with.
Fast forward ten years. Valerie has now matured into a beautiful young woman, played by the talented Amanda Seyfried. She is still drawn to Peter and plans to run away with him, but is prevented from doing so but the werewolf’s sudden killing of her sister. This prompts the arrival of the famous witch hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, and one wonders why he had anything to do with this film) and a hunt for the werewolf begins. And this is where the movie starts to get rather awful.
The entire film is, in essence, a detective story, as the audience and villagers attempt to discover the identity of the werewolf. And the answer is surprising; the movie does a phenomenal job of being misleading. But the excitement of the ending doesn’t make up for all of the utterly ridiculous bits that lead up to it, which are mostly a result of the screenwriter’s inability to write both dialogue and plot, not even a problem of how to fill such a simple story with endless filler –- this story is too far from the Red Riding Hood of Charles Perrault to talk about filler — it’s that scenes that could be exciting and moments that could lead to something are inadequately handled. Every time the screenwriter is suffering from an acute case of writer’s block and doesn’t know how to make the story go on, the werewolf attacks and lots of people die. Or somebody dies for some other reason. When the villagers believe they’ve caught the werewolf, he attacks and kills people. When they have a false suspect, he attacks and kills people. Bodies pile up, and interspersed with that are several scenes of Valerie’s intimate moments with Peter, followed by guilt-ridden ruminations over her pledged hand. On top of that, there’s the absolutely awful dialogue: “I think you know the answer to that.” “I do, but I want you to say it.” What better way to clue the viewer in that the screenwriter didn’t know how to reveal a key piece of information? (and it is a key piece of information).
If that were not enough, there’s also the absolutely ridiculous way this movie looks. Last time I checked, poor villagers in the middle ages did not have permed bright blonde hair and layers of makeup. And as I remember, in any village in the mountains of Europe, it will be cold when it snows. And yet Valerie prances around in a light dress and sleeveless cloak. This goes beyond suspending disbelief for a movie. The people in this film seem to be perfect Hollywood models, whose hair and makeup stylists’ main goal was not to enhance their costume but show off their abilities. Then the actors are stuck into a poor semblance of the middle ages in order to romanticize a time and place that no sane person would want to live in.
All in all, my high hopes for this film were disappointed. Valerie’s conflict between Peter and Henry is an interesting one, especially when set against the background of the mystery of the werewolf. The marketing of the film made it appear, from the very beginning, that Peter is the werewolf, and that Valerie will have to choose between the bad man she loves and the good man she cannot love but must marry. Instead, her conflict is entirely fabricated, since both men leave her a free choice. And although the mystery of who the werewolf is offers some amount of engagement, the way in which it is solved lacks depth. In the end, this movie really seems to have no redeeming features.