If you’re at all like me, you might find yourself dry-heaving at the very mention of Twilight, which unfortunately makes it hard to appreciate the lovely, mystical hour between dusk and night and even harder to walk through a mall without losing your lunch.
So you probably were about as excited for Red Riding Hood as I was – after all, it is brought to us by the director who unleashed the limpest supernatural romance since Casper Meets Wendy on an unsuspecting moviegoing public, and it seems to follow the same basic formula: hot but indecisive girl in a tree-trimmed town finds herself torn between a hot brunette and a hot blond, one of whom who may be a werewolf.
And yet somehow Red Riding Hood manages to be a competent, well-structured, rather goofy, and passably entertaining bit of toothless teen horror that didn’t leave me trying to chew through my own paw to get out of the theater.
It’s interesting that although Red Riding‘s source material (the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale of old, in case you just popped out of a test tube) is far more canonical than Twilight, director Catherine Hardwicke seems much freer this go-round, finding ample opportunity to showcase a deft hand with young romance that was utterly absent from her last film. Playing fast-and-loose with the legend but using the major plot points as markers, the filmmakers have turned the simple trek to Grandmother’s house into a locked-room whodunit with an impressive body count and decent central mystery.
Virginia Madsen serves fairy tale glamour
As Valerie, Amanda Seyfried (Jennifer’s Body, Mamma Mia!) is her usual likable self, bringing an unexpected strength and forthright sensuality to a role generally played either as a victim or a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing. Her huge eyes and cupid’s-bow lips are of course used to their full babydoll potential, but as usual she’s more than the sum of her well-assembled parts.
As her mother, Virginia Madsen is absolutely ridiculous – she looks like she spent a full day at a salon to get herself prettied up to stand behind a stove in a medieval hut. It’s actually so preposterous that it’s kind of funny – one of a number of details (the emo rock score, some vaguely disturbing S&M elements) that are so glaringly off-key that you wonder if the filmmakers aren’t having more fun with this otherwise earnestly square tale than they let on.
Julie Christie still looks jump-up-and-slap-your-own-mother gorgeous as Grandmother, and there’s of course Gary Oldman to camp things up to the next level as a priest who is called into town to suss out the identity of the marauding werewolf that has started picking off villagers, starting with Valerie’s sister.
Shiloh Fernandez as Peter
And then of course there’s the assortment of pretty boys lined up like lambs to the slaughter: Shiloh Fernandez from the indie horror flicks Deadgirl and Red is passably smirky as Peter, Valerie’s forbidden love of a woodsman; Max Irons (yes, he’s Jeremy’s son) is dutifully dreamworthy as her betrothed; even comparative elder Lukas Haas (hey, remember him??) is buffed and plucked to Teen Beat-ready condition for his role as a young priest.
Gary Oldman brings it
As the murder mystery develops, fans of goofy old horror whodunits like The Beast Must Die! (or even retro updates like Sleepy Hollow) will likely feel comforted by the dusty plot structure and predictable red herrings. There’s also a good amount of action and mayhem to be had, but as it’s mostly instigated by a CGI wolf that looks like it escaped from one of the Scooby Doo movies, it’s nothing to get excited about.
Is Red Riding Hood a great movie? Oh, absolutely not. It’s probably not even a good movie, all told, and I may be giving it too much of a pass by crediting it simply for not being the steaming heap of diapers that I expected it to be. But I will say that I wasn’t bored, I found the pacing and mystery engaging enough, and a few of the strange details (including some strange Mean Girls-style teen bitchery and a scene of hot girl-on-girl … square dancing!) had me chuckling.
I mean, really – this is a feature-length version of a fairy tale, and aren’t fairy tales meant to be familiar, comforting, and a bit quaint? If you go into this with expectations at the Bedtime Story setting, you might be pleasantly surprised.
In the end it seems that Hardwicke set out to prove that she could deliver a competent, good-looking teen romance fantasy to wash the taste of Twilight out of everyone’s mouths, and I think she succeeded. While her Red Riding Hood may be little more than a PG-13 rendering of a Disney princess movie, I’d take it before more brooding vampires and hypersensitive modern teen angst any day.
RATING (OUT OF 5):
Red Riding Hood is Rated PG-13 for an adorable CGI werewolf, gratuitous corset-straining, and harm to Gary Oldman’s credibility.