Once upon a time, there was a film called Red Riding Hood that was so bad it scarcely merited discussion. It did, however, offer audiences some take-away insights for consideration and potential seminar discussion:
1. Werewolves will never be able to compete with vampires and zombies for pop-culture supremacy. They’re not as sexy as the former or as appealingly goofy as the latter. Plus, computer animators still can’t seem to produce a gigantic, slavering canine that moves like a canine and not like a herky-jerky ghost in a Japanese horror film.
2. The Twilight formula is not as easy to replicate as producers seem to think. Simply put, Stephenie Meyer’s best sellers are about a girl who loves a boy because he loves her so much he wants to tear her apart and drink her blood. They are perverse and silly, but they tap into something real and, God help us, probably primal.
In Red Riding Hood, writer David Leslie Johnson and director Catherine Hardwicke — who did the first Twilight adaptation — offer us a feeble love triangle involving a good girl (Amanda Seyfried); a sneering Robert Pattinson look-alike (Shiloh Fernandez); and his wealthy rival (Max Irons). If one actor didn’t have spiky black hair and the other wasn’t a fluffy towhead, we wouldn’t know who was supposed to be “dangerous.” Romance like this doesn’t sell 5 million T-shirts.
3. Gary Oldman and Julie Christie will act their asses off in anything. Christie, playing the heroine’s grandma — of “Grandmother, you have such big eyes” fame — classes up the joint. Oldman, as a werewolf hunter with a murky accent reminiscent of his turn in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, basically does here what he did there: too much of everything.
4. Even in the mythical, medieval-esque past where Red Riding Hood takes place, teenagers had dance parties. With grinding.
But wait. The film does have a plot, which deserves at least our cursory attention, being tangential at best to the familiar folktale of a little girl in the big woods. (Want a real modern version of “Little Red Riding Hood”? Try Freeway.)
Seyfried plays Valerie, a small-town beauty facing an arranged marriage. She’s about to elope with Spiky Hair when her sister is found murdered by the werewolf that haunts their village. As Valerie struggles with her feelings, dialogue clunkers drop with regularity. (“If you love her, let her go,” her lover is told.)
Rather than capitalizing on the unsavory but compelling sexual implications of the tale — a girl ready for puberty discovers a wolf in her bed — Johnson turns it into a whodunit. Which of the townspeople is the wolf? Is it the bad boy (too obvious)? The good boy? The dodgy priest (Lukas Haas)? Grandmother herself? When the camera starts lurching furtively to approximate the wolf’s point of view, slasher-movie style, we know we are not in competent hands.
The paranoia of an isolated community is a great film subject, and the movie has some creatively creepy set and prop designs. (Grandmother’s house, for instance, is surrounded by pines with their lower branches bleached and sharpened to lethal points.) But the sets are too obviously sets, even the “wild” forest; the snow doesn’t look like snow; and the CGI-enhanced landscapes, washed with coral light, resemble Thomas Kinkade paintings.
For viewers who just want to contemplate cute guys and lush aerial photography, Red Riding Hood will do in a pinch. But anyone who cares about characters and storytelling may start wishing hungry zombies had shown up.
* Running time: 100 min.
* Rated: PG-13
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