Film Review: “Red Riding Hood”

by Jason LeRoy on March 11, 2011

Shiloh Fernandez plays peek-a-wolf with Amanda Seyfried in RED RIDING HOOD. Photo by Kimberly French – © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

starring: Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie, Lukas Haas, Billy Burke

directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality.

In his brilliant DVD commentary track for Showgirls, writer David Schmader attempts to define what makes it such a legend among bad movies. He talks about the endlessly shocking fact that so many adults were able to come together and decide that Showgirls was a good idea. Everyone involved in the film, from the actors to the director to the writer to the editors to the grips to the craft services people, all appear to be making the worst possible decision at every possible moment, and this density of failure somehow renders Showgirls sublime.

The phrase “density of failure” popped into my head while watching Red Riding Hood, director Catherine Hardwicke’s delightfully awful retelling of the cautionary fairy tale. Like Showgirls, Red Riding Hood is so bad in so many ways, some of which actually feel new, that it is difficult to articulate what is so bad about it. It’s like trying to describe why the sun is bright. The mind simply boggles.

Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, a comely young woman living in a tiny medieval village. After an opening sequence featuring the same sweeping shots of pine trees and rugged wilderness that opened Hardwicke’s Twilight, Valerie narrates a scene of herself as a young girl playing with her lifelong crush, alleged bad boy Peter (played as a sneering teen by Shiloh Fernandez). “My mother always told me to be a good girl,” Valerie coos to us. “And I really tried.” Oh brother.

Fast forward to present day. Valerie and Peter have continued in a flirty courtship that consists mostly of him chopping wood while she giggles behind a tree. All is going well until Valerie’s sister is killed by The Wolf. “The wolf has broken the truce!” the townspeople cry, immediately calling to mind The Village. So a group of angry villagers, led by The Reeve (Battlestar Galactica‘s ever-craggy Michael Hogan, who seems constantly on the verge of barking, “Let’s kill that ffffffffffracking wolf!”), set off to avenge the death.

But then, something far worse: Valerie learns that she’s been married off by her parents (Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen) to the pouting, sullen “good boy” Henry (Max “son of Jeremy” Irons), whom she doesn’t love but can provide a better life for her than Peter or the other 11 guys who live in their village. What’s a girl to do? Other than seek solace from one’s ominous grandmother (the legendary Julie Christie, slumming gorgeously).

In an attempt to restore order and combat the wolf, Father Auguste (Lukas Haas) arranges for a priest/werewolf expert named Solomon to come to the village. That Solomon is played by Gary Oldman should tell you all you need to know about the character. He initiates a witch-hunt among the 20 or so people who live in the village to learn the identity of the wolf, while Valerie continues trying to fight her “bad girl” urges in her love triangle between McSneering and McPouting.

Ugh. I wanted to like this movie. I really did. I was a big fan of Hardwicke’s directorial debut, Thirteen, and admired her other pre-Twilight movies, Lords of Dogtown and The Nativity Story. But she has seriously laid an egg this time around. Twilight is no longer her cinematic low-point.

Red Riding Hood is disastrously misguided on nearly every conceivable level. It is jam-packed with more unintentional hilarity than any film in recent memory. I would have been happy to dump the majority of blame on screenwriter David Leslie Johnson, whose only previous screenplay was the similarly hilarious Orphan. Nearly every line of dialogue is a snorter. But Hardwicke made it perfectly clear in an interview with Movieline that she liberally tinkered with the script and is directly responsible for many of the film’s most disastrous elements, so the captain is definitely going down with this ship.

I was hoping Hardwicke would be smart enough to do some sort of clever post-post-feminist deconstruction of such an incendiary fairy tale. I mean, come on, this is “Little Red Riding Hood.” There is so much you can do here. Just look at Matthew Bright’s brilliant 1996 cult classic Freeway, or even the sequence in Coppola’s Dracula between Lucy (Sadie Frost) and the wolf. But rather than being smart or even provocative, Hardwicke just attempts mining the story for a slightly steamier variation on the same gothic teen romance territory as Twilight. And while this may pay off commercially, that is the only way.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy about this film, other than Hardwicke’s ongoing squandering of her gifts as a filmmaker, is that she has assembled such an amazing cast of actors for such a shit-show. The usually luminous Seyfried seems bored and listless. Oldman and Haas are stranded with one-dimensional caricatures. Madsen and Christie fare marginally better, given the material. And in the stud battle, Irons emerges victorious. Fernandez might be prettier, but he seems physically incapable of delivering a non-hilarious line reading.

But whatever. So it’s a bad movie. Personally, I’d like to see it get remade shot-for-shot as Scary Movie 5, with Anna Faris playing the Valerie role. It is just so ripe for parody. This is truly a bad movie to be celebrated. And specifically, it’s a bad fairy tale movie, which is becoming a bit of an epidemic. But unlike last week’s dismal Beastly, Red Riding Hood is bad enough to circle back and become good again. If you are looking for a movie to get fucked up and laugh at, look no further. Red Riding Hood may even become a midnight movie. It definitely has the potential. Ooh, look for the scene where Oldman tells Seyfried to put on her “harlot’s cloak” and then makes her wear a metal aardvark helmet of shame. And definitely stick around for the final shot of the film, which nearly made me fall out of my seat.

RIYL: unintentional hilarity

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