Entertainment » Movies

Red Riding Hood

by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Mar 11, 2011
Amanda Seyfried stars in Red Riding Hood
Amanda Seyfried stars in Red Riding Hood  (Source:Warner Bros. Pictures)

Sometimes there are movies so bad you simply have to recommend them just so others can verify what you've seen--like a bad accident, or a UFO that just crashed into a 7-11. It's not that you want to make people suffer; you just want them to experience the same jaw-dropping terribleness that you did. It's akin to eating something truly gross and saying, "Taste this, it's disgusting!"

This is why I say "Go! Go see Red Riding Hood." The sheer audacity of director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Thirteen) is so stunning that you won't close your mouth for the entire two hour running time.

Red Riding Hood takes the classic story we all know and love and gives it an updated twist, while keeping it firmly set hundreds of years ago in some nameless village. The only thing you know is that there are a lot of trees surrounding the tiny hamlet, and nothing else for miles. We know this because Hardwicke gives us endless shots of beautiful landscape over the opening credits and throughout the film.

When the movie finally begins, we enter a small village clearly made with Lincoln Logs. In fact it looks so like so much like "Frontierland," I half-expected to see some extra wearing Mickey Ears and eating a Churro.

Screenwriter David Johnson (Orphan) sets up Valerie (our Red Riding Hood) as a little girl who has the hots for her best friend Peter. The two sneak off to the woods and capture a rabbit they intend on killing and making boots out of. This is done with a devilish look on Valerie's face that giddily sets her up to be a future serial killer. Unfortunately, that's not the case, as that would be too much fun. This plot point is only used when the wolf tries to make her feel guilty about it. Notice I said "the wolf tries to make her feel guilty." But I'll get back to that.

Cut to ten years later as Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) and Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) are deeply in love, but Valerie's parents (Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen) won't allow them to marry. You see, Peter is just a penniless commoner, and clearly there is some Bel Aire cul de sac somewhere offscreen that the townies long to be a part of. However, since Hardwicke has already delighted us with helicopter shots of the surrounding three states, I'm not sure where these people with money keep their estates.

Valerie's mom has it in her head that her daughter needs a better life, so she arranges a marriage to Henry (Max Irons), who is not only better looking than her true love Peter, but a lot sweeter. The fact is, Peter always looks like he wants to go out and beat people up just for fun. (Talk about miscasting the romantic lead.) Granted, I wouldn't have been surprised if Henry finally announced he was leaving town with the studly local wood-carver or something, but that would have been a different movie altogether.

But the teen angst isn't all that's going on here. The village has been tormented for decades by a werewolf who comes around every full moon and eats their livestock or some random villager. When Valerie's older sister is found slaughtered, the incident leaves Valerie's family shaken. So the manly men from the village decide to go find the werewolf and kill it. (Really? They didn't think about doing this at any point in the last thirty years? They even know exactly where its lair is!)

One man dies at the jaws of the werewolf, but another man kills it. But alas, what they kill is just a common wolf. This little fact is brought to the villager's attention courtesy of Father Auguste (Gary Oldman), who comes to town to let them all know they have it wrong. The werewolf is actually a man or woman that turns into a wolf. Now, the question here is: The villagers have called the monster a werewolf since the beginning of the film. Did they not know the definition of the word?

Regardless, Father Auguste lets the village know what they must do to destroy the creature. But he has a whole litany of rules, which he illustrates by having a bit of "Show and Tell." As this is, like, 700 years ago, one would expect him to draw on ground with a stick or something, but no. He hauls in an oversized crate that, when opened, reveals an intricate model of the universe that clicks and turns all by itself. (Talk about a drama queen.)

At first no one believes the Father, and the village insists on celebrating the fact they've finally killed the beast. That night, they have a party that--no joke--involves an inappropriately sexy dance, modern rock music, and a supermodel standing in the center of the town square wearing a bush over her head. This scene ends with the werewolf attacking the village and finally cornering our Valerie. And just as we worry for her safety... Just as we wonder what it will do to her....

It’s so shockingly incompetent it’s (almost) a pleasure to watch.

It speaks.

With its mind.

Which is when Valerie offers this little gem: "You talk???" That's when the giggles start. The audience's, not Valerie's.

The rest of the film is all about who the wolf really is and why it's not hurting Valerie. I'll give the screenwriter credit for keeping us wondering who the werewolf is, although my first guess during the opening scenes was the right one.

What's so truly bad about Red Riding Hood is the many dreadful choices Hardwicke makes, not to mention her inability to direct her actors. In one scene, the villagers run out into the town square to prepare for their celebration. We pan left to focus on two characters conversing, and on the right, we see Valerie in the background walk into the frame, look around confused, then walk back out as if she were saying, "What exactly am I supposed to be doing right now?"

Virginia Madsen is wasted here and, God love her, she needs to stop, because not only did she look the same age as Amanda Seyfried, but she honest-to-God could not move her face. In one scene she is standing with the rest of the town listening to someone babble on and on, and she literally never changes her expression.

I can't blame the actors for the bad acting, as most of them are normally good. I blame Hardwicke. She did the same in Twilight. Like some supernatural creature, she has the ability to suck the life out of a scene, leaving actors flailing around for a connection. One of the first scenes between Valerie and Peter is so devoid of chemistry you can actually hear the scene go "thud." Hardwicke attempts to make the moment romantic by sexing it up with longing glances, coy turns of head, and sexual relations in the hay, but it all just comes across relentlessly silly.

As for the look of the film, it's hard to tell whether she wanted to go for a purposely fake fairy-tale world or something more realistic. Regardless, neither works. When Valerie goes to visit Grandmother's house (poor Julie Christie), it's as if the script direction says, "Valerie enters Soundstage 13."

As for the actors, they all look like they have come right out of a TV show on the CW. The ladies have perfect hair and make-up, and there are three teenage girls that that seem to always be on the verge of saying things like "OMG! Peter is so hot! I'm totally going to Facebook stalk him!"

There is so much here that is truly head-scratching, it's hard to stop talking about it. But that's the fun of it: This film is so shockingly incompetent, it's (almost) a pleasure to watch. It's a pretty film, don't get me wrong, but after the 800th shot of the blindingly white snow against Valerie's illogically long red cape, I was done. That said, it's worth it just to see the split-second when Valerie momentarily thinks her grandmother is the werewolf because she's inexplicably wearing a fur blanket.

My heart goes out to Amanda Seyfried, who is a charming and talented actress. Unfortunately, she is mishandled here, making this a tremendous misstep in a nice little career. Here's hoping for a sequel, though, because when it's all over and Valerie gives a little smirk to a character that shall remain nameless, one can only wonder just how bat-shit crazy the follow-up would be.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.

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