With its origins dating back to medieval times, the folk tale known as “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Little Red Cap” has enjoyed considerable longevity over the years. First printed in 1967 as “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge” in “Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals. Tales of Mother Goose” by Charles Perrault, it surged in popularity in the nineteenth century courtesy of two storytelling siblings known as the Brothers Grimm (appearing as “Rotkäppchen” in their book “Children’s and Household Tales”). From that point on, many an author has revisited the tale (including Andrew Lang’s “The Red Fairy Book” and Gillian Cross’ “Wolf”), and many a filmmaker as well. Indeed, the latter category features efforts as diverse as Liza Minnelli TV film The Dangerous Christmas Of Red Riding Hood, Neil Jordan’s The Company Of Wolves, crime thriller Freeway, animated offering Hoodwinked and revenge flick Hard Candy, and now fantasy adaptation Red Riding Hood.
In the small village of Daggerthorn, the lives of the locals are dictated by the ever-present threat of the wolf. Although spared from attacks for two decades, a savage slaying marks the return of the beast to disrupt the quiet of the woodland community. When her older sister is taken as the wolf’s latest victim, the plans of beautiful young Valerie (Amanda Seyfried, Letters To Juliet) are thrown into disarray. Instead of pursuing her preferred romance with woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez, Cadillac Records), she is forced into an engagement with Henry (Max Irons, Dorian Gray), the son of the local blacksmith, as a way of paying the debt of her parents (Virginia Madsen, The Haunting In Connecticut, and Billy Burke, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse). With the village in fear of another wolf appearance, the services of apparent expert Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, The Book Of Eli) are procured. As he attempts to rid the area of the beast, his suspicions are cast over the locals, with Valerie the object of his greatest misgivings.
Let’s start with a confession. Late last year, we voted Red Riding Hood one of our Most Anticipated Films of 2011. Based on nothing more than a few visually striking preliminary images, it proved to be a bit of wishful thinking. Catherine Hardwicke, director of the woeful yet bafflingly popular Twilight, previously brought us the much edgier Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, and this had all the promise of being a much darker version of the classic tale from Orphan scribe David Johnson. While there are certainly some nice visual touches to the film, the opening sequences are overblown with light to represent a kind of innocence and storybook tranquility that is soon to be shattered. Hardwick’s obvious lack of sophistication betrays an unease that she appears to have with genuine emotional drama and character interaction, eliciting performances out of her main cast that could be described as wooden if we were feeling generous. Yet it is not entirely her fault: Johnson’s derivative script doesn’t allow any of the characters, particularly the men, to do anything but stand around and posture their chins. Commence the squeals of teenage delight.
Red Riding Hood would like to bill itself as a teen horror film, but is closer to being a clumsy ‘whodunnit’ with a werewolf. The formula plays out without missing a beat, from the star-crossed lovers to the maniacal hunter, and the impressive supporting cast is wasted in this stock-standard emo-fantasy flick that could have just as easily been edited together from Twilight Saga deleted scenes. The male leads are the most insidious, jawing off at each other and recycling each others lines. Shiloh Fernandez was spawned from the same hell hole that manufactured the Robert Pattinson Phenomenon, although at this rate it may be a few years before this dreamboat hits the walls of teenage bedrooms. Amanda Seyfried continues to do that wide-eyed thing she does, and while she is staring like a deer in headlights, it gives Gary Oldman and Julie Christie a chance to wonder why they even turned up. While it is nice to see Oldman back in a villain role after his excellent portrayal of Jim Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, his villainy really only amounts to torturing the mentally ill and announcing that he killed his wife with alarming regularity. He also appears to be channeling Anthony Hopkins in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. This is faux horror at best, and cookie-cutter filmmaking at worst.
The Reel Bits: Red Riding Hood lives up to its title in the sense that there is a garment of the same name featuring in the film. Yet it is the only distinguishing feature against the otherwise drab, dreary and monotonous background.
Red Riding Hood was released on March 24, 2011 in Australia by Roadshow Films.