Red Riding Hood

Cast:
Amanda Seyfried as Valerie
Gary Oldman as Solomon
Billy Burke as Cesaire
Shiloh Fernandez as Peter
Max Irons as Henry
Virginia Madsen as Suzette
Lukas Haas as Father Auguste
Julie Christie as Grandmother
Shauna Kain as Roxanne
Michael Hogan as the Reeve
Adrian Holmes as Captain
Cole Heppell as Claude
Christine Willes as Madame Lazar
Michael Shanks as Adrien Lazar
Kacey Rohl as Prudence

Review:
It’s no great surprise that Hollywood likes to tell the same stories over and over again. Movies cost a lot of money to make, more flop than succeed, and overall it’s just a risky business to be in. So naturally the guys in charge are going to focus on stories that have worked in the past, movie stars people like and genres that seem popular. It makes sense that they would do it that way, but it’s not the best formula in the world for originality.

But director Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”) is going to try to find some sort of middle ground in her re-working of “Red Riding Hood.”

The titular riding hood of this version belongs to Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), youngest daughter of the local woodcutter and childhood friend (and romantic interest) of poor wild child Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). Living her life in a typical snowy fairy tale village, Valerie has a lot of the typical fairy tale girl problems – she’s poor, she’s been promised to a rich man she doesn’t love in marriage, oh yes and her village has been terrorized her entire life by a werewolf.

The original red riding hood story itself is a bit light to turn into a feature length film, so tying into another plot only makes sense, and a monster movie plot is a good fit. It allows the filmmakers to keep all of the hallmarks of the original well known plot their marketing is banking on while simultaneously opening up avenues of new exploration within an old story. And if they had just done that, the final result would probably have been a lot better than “Red Riding Hood” is.

Which isn’t bad, really. Hardwicke and her production team–production designer Thomas Sanders and cinematographer Mandy Walker–have created a lush looking fantasy world despite having not much more than a forest and a town square to work with. It never goes far into the absurd but it is plainly in a world apart, just the way a fairy tale should be. It’s hard not to wonder where this Catherine Hardwicke was when “Twilight” was getting made.

Unfortunately, apart from the look, not much of the film is particularly fairy tale like and Hardwicke and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson (“Orphan”) aren’t entirely sure what to replace it with. On the one hand, a lot of it is a very typical monster movie, full of quick cuts and disemboweled bodies.

On the other hand it also wants to be a who-done-it, as Valerie and the townsfolk feverishly begin trying to find which villager could actually be the beast. Could it be Peter, or possibly Valerie’s husband-to-be Henry (Max Irons), or her mysterious Grandmother (Julie Christie) who lives on the outskirts of the village, all by herself. The screws are tightened considerably when werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman in all of his over-the-top Oldmaness) arrives to hunt the fell beast and tell the simple townsfolk that it could be hiding in plain sight as one of the villagers, adding to already potent paranoia.

Which is also a good idea if handled a little heavily, but Hardwicke doesn’t seem content to leave it at that and quickly adds on a helping of religious fanaticism on top of everything else. Solomon will do and sacrifice anything to catch the beast because he sees it as his holy duty, so it should come as no surprise when he turns from savior to inquisitor, stuffing anyone he suspects into the metal elephant shaped furnace he carts around to torture suspects into giving up information.

By that point we’ve gone one step too far as to how much different material “Red Riding Hood” can interestingly sustain, a fact made all the more evident by the climax of the second act which would serve much better as the end of the film. In fact, the actual climax comes across more as a dénouement that exists only because at some point it was decided that the end of the original story (with Red Riding Hood heading to Grandmother’s house and meeting a wolf there) needed to be the end of the film as well and could never get away from it. The reasoning behind that choice is logical and obvious, but it does not fit with all the padding in the middle. Something has to give and ultimately it’s any interest you might sustain in the ending.

It’s not particularly helped by a lot of soap opera casting. The idea is obviously to appeal to as young a crowd as possible, so a hefty percentage of the cast are twenty-something’s cast more for their looks than their abilities. The supporting cast is better, Oldman’s scenery-chewing aside, but apart from Christie they don’t get much to do or time to do it.

“Red Riding Hood” is a good idea for a re-telling of the old fairy tale, but the execution is hopelessly muddled. If they had just picked one way to go with it–mystery, monster story, inquisition metaphor–it would have probably worked. Instead its trying to go in a lot of different directions at once and ultimately gets nowhere.

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