Red Riding Hood Review [SXSW 2011]

Red Riding Hood turns out to be a somewhat vapid re-trelling of the classic fairy tale. While director Catherine Hardwicke did paint some nice visuals, the film lacked depth and substance. Out in theatres on March 11, this supernatural romance may be a hit with the tweeners, but most audiences will find it underwhelming.

Some may recall Hardwicke directed the much beloved Twilight, and her Red Riding Hood felt a lot like Twilight set in medieval times. There’s the supernatural romance elements, the juvenile story line, the ridiculous situations, and the trite dialogue. I’m amazed that Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen, and Lukas Haas participated in this film. Even Oldman’s usually spot-on acting abilities couldn’t save his character, or “sell” the stilted, ridiculous dialogue. I guess we have to blame scriptwriter David Johnson (The Orphan) for that.

The dialogue was so histrionic it made me laugh out loud in places, and reminded my of something I might see on the community theatre stage (no offense to all amateur thespians out there). Haas played Father Auguste, a character so completely superfluous I’m wondering if they wrote him in at the last minute so Haas could have a role. Madsen plays the mother of Red Riding Hood, and with shiny plumped lips and hair curled she looks like she would be more comfortable on the set of Housewives of Atlanta.

So here’s the story, such as it is. Amanda Seyfried (Dear John, Jennifer’s Body) plays Valerie, a not-so-innocent village girl with romantic troubles. She loves poor woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her parents have arranged for her to marry the son of a wealthier family Henry (Max Irons). On top of her love woes, the village has been living under the shadow of a werewolf. They sacrifice the best of their livestock to it, but still no one goes out when there’s a wolf moon and the village is built like a fortress.

Lucky for this little village, along comes uber werewolf hunter Father Solomon (played valiantly by Oldman). Father Solomon has brought his mad werewolf hunting skills and knowledge, and a blessed silver sword. But even armed with all that, the werewolf terrorizes and brutalizes the village, singling out Valerie as the object of his desire. When the werewolf turns out to be someone trusted in the village, no one can be trusted, and Valerie suspects everyone from her lover to her grandmother.

Some of the opening sequences show gorgeous wooded mountains white with snow, and develop an effective backdrop to the fairy tale world. There is also some great cinematography when it comes to setting up artistic shots, like Valerie in her blood-red cape and hood against the bleak background of dark trees and white snow. A lot of these artistic shots are effective for setting a great fantastical atmosphere, really pulling in the fairy tale elements. For example, plenty of little nods to fairy tales are peppered into the film. A little child skipping through the woods, references to the Big Bad Wolf and blowing your house down, among others.

While Hardwicke gives us some above par visuals, the story and dialogue are thin to say the least. Some moments seem taken out of other teen romance films, like a terrible village party scene with sexy wolf-inspired dancing and some lesbian teases. Granted, none of the creatures sparkle, but even with the bigger budget allotted to this Warner Bros film, the CGI underwhelmed. The werewolf sapped most of the CGI budget, but unfortunately that money might have been better spent on something animatronic as far as werewolf effects.

Hardwicke attended the SXSW screening of Red Riding Hood. She took a few minutes to address the audience about the film, thanking them for coming and fielding a few questions. She did mention the difference between doing a big budget film like this compared to her first uber low-budget film Thirteen, where she said actresses were wearing her clothes, and most of the furniture was from her apartment. With a larger budget and more Hollywood oversight in her project, she tried to maintain her artistic integrity. She also mentioned getting to use her degree in architecture, helping to design the village set and make sure it had the “architecture of paranoia” as the villagers are living under the terror of the werewolf.

While Red Riding Hood may appeal to Twilight fans, the insubstantial nature and stilted dialogue will make it tedious and even laughable to most audiences.

Red Riding Hood Review

Trite dialogue, poor special effects and an insubstantial storyline make Red Riding Hood a bit of a dud.