Thursday, March 10, 2011

Heavy (Wolf) Petting: Red Riding Hood

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

"Red Riding Hood" is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first "Twilight" movie--and was banished from any involvement with the sequels--and it's clearly her attempt to capture some of those "Twilight"-loving tweens looking for the latest in supernatural lust.

Set in a snowy, fairy tale land, at some unspecified, renaissance-esque time, "Red Riding Hood" centers on Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), a young woman reaching marrying age. She is betrothed to Henry (Max Irons), a young man of means, although she is really in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a lowly woodcutter. See, they've been in love ever since they were wee and used to trap and slaughter rabbits together. (For reals.)

But all is not tranquil in this fairy tale town. For twenty years, they have had a "deal" with the local werewolf, wherein it will not slaughter villagers as long as they leave it a nice bit of livestock every full moon. But when a young woman is found mauled, the village decides they've had enough of this werewolf bullshit, and they're gonna hunt it down and kill it. (Not really sure why they couldn't have come to this decision sooner.)

Now, I suppose all of this doesn't sound inherently stupid. Modern fairy tales can be done well, and "Little Red Riding Hood" has been tackled before, perhaps best in the 1984 film "In the Company of Wolves." But the approach Hardwicke takes renders the film almost--yes, I'll say it-- howlingly awful.

For one thing, this kind of story just feels awkward when American accents are involved. It's hard enough to suspend ones disbelief that the renaissance was full of permed, squeaky clean women wearing expertly applied eyeliner, but throwing the flat sound of American teen-speak into the mix only ups the snerk-quotient. I kept expecting a "The Village"-type ending exposing the location of the town as being present day Tahoe, but alas, that doesn't happen. Even Julie Christie, who plays the witchy grandma, has to mask her British accent. Gary Oldman, as a werewolf-hunting priest, does have an accent, but I have no idea if it was supposed to be German, Italian, or Russian. Whatever he's supposed to be, he does give the wolf a run for the money when it comes to scenery-chewing. (Virginia Madsen and Billy Burke--who also plays Bella's father in the "Twilight" films--round out the cast as Valerie's parents.)

You don't need a degree in Women's Studies to know that the "Little Red Riding Hood" story is full of some heavy Freudian imagery, (RED = MENSTRUATION, people!), but this is a PG-13 movie, and the sex is limited to some heavy petting, and really not much of it. The two guys after Valerie's heart are both generically handsome cyphers; being a werewolf would be the only interesting thing about either of them. Alas, the film follows the "Twilight" example and remains way too chaste, some creepy incest allusions not withstanding.

I'll give the movie this: It's lovely to look at, from Seyfried's ruby red lips, and skin as white as snow, to the Fantasyland-eqsue village, to the swooping helicopter shots over snowy alps; Ren Faire fans will wet their pants over the costumes and the big party scene. And if the "Twilight" crowd does flock to this, rendering it a hit, (lord help us), you can be damned sure there will be a sequel. The ending all but guarantees us "Red Riding Hood 2: Love's a Bitch."

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