12 April 2011

Movie Review: Red Riding Hood


C-

Red Riding Hood
2011, 100mins, 12
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: David Johnson
Cast includes: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke, Max Irons, Julie Christie
UK Release Date: 15th April 2011

After her impromptu expulsion from the “Twilight” series, director Catherine Hardwicke hasn’t strayed too far thematically with her follow-up “Red Riding Hood”. A peculiar retelling of the famous fairytale, “Red Riding Hood” has a few notable merits, but also some intensely distracting flaws. In terms of visual presentation and atmosphere the movie is a winner, sadly most of the production’s other components let it down.

The village of Daggerhorn has been plagued by a malicious werewolf for years, locals forced into hiding at the very thought of a full moon. Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) also has other reasons to be discontented, namely her arranged marriage to a local Blacksmith named Henry (Max Irons). Valerie’s heart belongs to another, her dashing yet financially strained childhood friend Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). As the wolf attacks grow increasingly nasty, the villagers seek the help of religious warrior Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), he and his band of troops descending on the town to hunt out the beast. However instead of setting the locals at ease, Solomon turns the community against itself, eventually leading to Valerie being accused of witchcraft.

Amanda Seyfried acquits herself adequately in “Red Riding Hood”, yet it marks another film unworthy of the actresses’ abilities. The film opts for a solemn and humorless tone; any laughs that arise are purely unintentional. As a result it depends utterly on Seyfried and a hammy Oldman to inject some spontaneity and life into proceedings, but against such a clunky screenplay they have limited power. I appreciated both thespians trying, and at times they do succeed, but ultimately “Red Riding Hood” marks a regrettable career development for both. The rest of the supporting cast is awful. As Valerie’s parents Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen are granted nothing to do, whilst both Max Irons and Shiloh Fernandez are limp love interests. The film’s attempts to characterize even its central figures are ham-fisted, meaning that “Red Riding Hood” struggles to engage on a fundamental level.

Hardwicke has at least constructed a visually interesting film, shoveling in some compelling imagery and welcome stylistic flourishes. The cinematography from Mandy Walker captures Daggerhorn’s sense of isolation, the film achieving a haunting ambience as a consequence. When “Red Riding Hood” lunges to be taken seriously as a horror picture it fails miserably, the PG-13 aesthetic and Hardwicke’s spastic way with jump scares undercutting the tension. However in its quieter moments it would be unfair not to compliment the picture on its foreboding undercurrent. It’s just a pity the filmmakers couldn’t translate the same sense of unease into the werewolf sequences.

The love triangle (easily the film’s most overt ad irritating attempt to “Twilight” itself up) is pathetically executed, a victim of inconsistent focus and wooden acting. Hardwicke only ever seems interested in this facet of “Red Riding Hood” when the wolf is absent or Oldman stops bellowing, leaving it unrefined and shallow. It does allow for a decent action scene in which Valerie’s two suitors help her escape from Solomon’s tyrannical clutches, but leaving that aside, it only exists to embarrass the film. Casting livelier folks than Fernandez and Irons would certainly have helped, but it’s really Hardwicke’s erratic direction and the flimsy writing that hurts this part of the flick most.

Who is the wolf? This mystery is easily solved early on, Hardwicke making it obvious through a selection of distressingly clumsy shots. “Red Riding Hood” attempts to use this central idea to incur a state of paranoia and suspense, but thanks to some unsubtle indicators and the film’s general refusal to unleash any genuine threat, the fear levels remain fairly low. It’s hard to imagine even young girls being spooked by this toothless affair. Hardwicke can’t help but wrap things up on a cloyingly fantastical note, whilst a few other misjudged additions (a silly dream sequence and ridiculous wolf talk) only further sully this occasionally intriguing effort. “Red Riding Hood” isn’t a complete dud, but I have no qualms in suggesting it would take a much better director than Hardwicke to morph this material into anything truly worthwhile.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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