A clever, if ultimately disappointing, retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, director Tate Bunkers Little Red chronicles what must be one of the worst nightmares a parent can have.
Newcomer Hannah Obst stars as 11 year-old Ruth, known to her friends as Red for obvious reasons. Red longs to go to Florida and Cumberland Island to see the wild horses. Believing that her parents have reneged on a promise to take her (and instead send her to some sort of winter camp), she lies to her older sister and makes her way to the airport, hopping a flight from the cold Midwest to warm and sunny Florida.
A middle-aged predator named Lou (Mark Metcalf, Maestro in Seinfeld and Neidermeyer in Animal House) sizes up Red at the airport and approaches her in Florida. He strikes up a conversation and quickly makes it clear that he is someone Red should fear. A little unnerved, she makes her to way her first destination, Daytona Beach.
Living out of a backpack and sleeping on the beach and in restrooms, Red is having the time of her life. She swims and attempts to surf and lays out on the beach, soaking in the warm and sunny Florida days and clear, pleasant nights. For a kid her age thinking only short-term, its a wonderful vacation with Cumberland Island still on the horizon.
But Lou is lurking nearby, watching and waiting, literally licking his chops as he plots his next attempt at contact. It doesnt take long for him to bump into her on the beach. He takes a seat next to her and though she knows something isnt right, Red is unable to bring herself to tell the much older man to leave her alone. Lou claims to work for an advertising agency and asks if he can take her picture and show them to clients. He gets more persistent and aggressive. Serious trouble seems inevitable.
Bunker effectively establishes a highly unsettling mood and sustains it for a significant chunk of time. Lou leers at Red and shows up wherever she does, always ready with a story about why she needs to come with him and how he only wants to help her. You cringe and squirm and wait for the moment Lou strikes.
Without revealing everything, Little Red completely falls apart in the final 10-15 minutes. Its not that you were rooting for harm to come to Red, but the movie strongly hints at a confrontation of some sort on Cumberland Island, or a final meeting of wolf and prey, and it never comes. It just suddenly ends, totally failing to exploit the gradual and forceful build up.
Making her feature debut, Obst is very green and her inexperience shows when she shares the screen with the far more polished Metcalf. He delivers a believable and suitably creepy performance, though having him sniff and howl and salivate is sometimes disturbing and sometimes unintentionally funny.
Little Red comes really close to being a deeply upsetting thriller, but falls a little short. The premise and set up are solid, but the wrap up is a big letdown. Heres hoping Bunker is able to pull it all together the next time.
Little Red premiered at the Milwaukee Film Fest.