RED RIDING HOOD, based on the classic fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, is a werewolf movie in the style of a paranormal romance. Instead of building an atmosphere of horror, such stories are about women involved with supernatural beings (vampires, werewolves, demons) and the ensuing romantic difficulties. These women are often either the ultimate in “bad girls” or are dating ultimate bad boys with supernatural powers that need to be marshaled and contained. As a subgenre of romance, paranormal romances have been building in popularity for the past decade and have become a staple at many bookstores.
One of the most popular paranormal romances is Stephanie Mayer’s series of TWILIGHT books, and RED RIDING HOOD’s director is none other than Catherine Hardwicke, the woman who directed the first TWILIGHT film. RED RIDING HOOD benefits from her ability to create beautiful visuals on a limited budget. Both the cinematography by Mandy Walker and the production design by Thomas Sanders are strong.
In the script by David Johnson(ORPHAN), Valerie is the young girl who receives a red cloak from her grandmother (Julie Christie). In the opening scene (set in a European mountain village that is never actually specified — it could be Austria or the Carpathians), Valerie traps a young rabbit with her friend Peter and is encouraged to slit the rabbit’s throat, with the spilling of blood indicating her transition into adulthood and her growing bond with Peter.
Some years later, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to marry the handsome woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her mother (Virginia Madsen), knowing how little woodcutters make (being married to one) is determined that she marry the brooding blacksmith Henry (Max Irons) instead. Rather than Team Edward and Team Jacob, these two men vie for Valerie’s love and attention. Henry realizes that Valerie prefers Peter, but Henry is game to show her that he is worthy.
Complicating matters, the village has been terrorized by a werewolf for many years, so every full moon, one of the village’s animals is tied to a stake and left for a sacrifice. However, this particular full moon, the werewolf bypasses the planned sacrifice and kills Valerie’s sister instead. Consequently, the village priest, Father Auguste (Lucas Haas) summons famed werewolf-hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to put an end to the horrors.
The villagers decide to tackle the problem themselves and send a posse after the werewolf. In the process, Henry’s father is killed and the Reeve (Michael Hogan, Saul of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) beheads the wolf he thinks is responsible. Father Solomon arrives in the village with two daughters, a warrior band of Moors, and a large iron elephant which is later employed as a torture device. Solomon has dedicated his life to eradicating werewolves, since one decimated his family. To aid him in his quest, he wields a silver sword and has replaced with natural fingernails with silver ones.
Goldman does an impressive job limning a larger-than-life fanatic, chomping on the scenery without quite going over the top, though at times it is a near miss, especially when he hisses while torturing someone about how “he sings with the love of Satan,” which borders on camp. Seyfried, from BIG LOVE and VERONICA MARS, imbues her character with some strong qualities as well. She’s no damsel in distress; her Valerie is smart, strong, and independent-minded, blue-eyed and stout-hearted.
The weakest element proves to be the werewolf itself, an underwhelming piece of CGI with black fur and brown eyes. The werewolf confronts Valerie and actually talks to her in a voice only she can understand. She realizes that the werewolf is one of the villagers, someone she knows, and so she dedicates herself to trying to solve which villager the werewolf could be. Is it Peter? Hans? Could it be Father Auguste luring Father Solomon for an ultimate showdown? Could it be one of her village girl friends? Could it be a member of her own family, such as her grandmother or her father (Billy Burke). However, once word spreads that she has communicated with the wolf, Valerie herself is suspected of witchcraft.
Though the images are beautiful, much of the dialogue is sappy, and far too modern for the time period, giving the film a Renaissance Faire 90210 feel. Though it tries hard to be anything but scary, the film doesn’t really satisfy, though in some ways it comes closer than Universal’s recent retread of THE WOLF MAN. RED RIDING HOOD doesn’t have the delirious sexual undertones or inventiveness of Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, and the beautiful Seyfried, looking great in Renaissance-era lingerie, is stranded between being a symbol of purity and one of sexuality. Though it is reminiscent of the TWILIGHT franchise, RED RIDING HOOD cannot quite recreate the successful formula.
RED RIDING HOOD (March 11, 2011). Director: Catherine Hardwicke. Writer: David Johnson.
- Amanda Seyfried…Valerie
- Gary Oldman…Solomon
- Billy Burke…Cesaire
- Shiloh Fernandez…Peter
- Max Irons…Henry
- Virginia Madsen…Suzette
- Lukas Haas…Father Auguste
- Julie Christie…Grandmother