15 April 2011


I think the record will show I've haven't ever been overwhelmingly negative about Twilight in the past. Yeah, it's not very good, but there are certainly worse films out there, and I find it harder to dislike the films than to dislike the hype and fanaticism the stories inspire. In the hiatus before the next film, due in cinemas this November, we're seeing a number of films hoping to replicate that hype and fanaticism.

Red Riding Hood takes a fairytale and tries to apply it with the formula of the Twilight films, bringing the first film's director, Catherine Hardwicke, in to do it. The girl in the hood is Valerie, whose affections are torn between the blacksmith with whom she has an impending arranged marriage, and her childhood friend, a woodcutter. More pressingly though, her small township has been plagued by werewolf attacks for generations, and with the rise of a blood moon comes the puritanical and violent Father Solomon, who pledges to kill the big bad wolf.

At a 12A certificate, you probably have a decent idea of what to expect from Red Riding Hood- some romantic monster angst aimed at pre-teens and packaged without any naughty words, sex or violence. What sets this apart is that it actually kept in one out of three, and used it as a boon. It's unfortunate that the violence is still excised, making for largely bloodless onslaughts by this big ravenous beastie. No naughty words either, so what remains is sex, or at least some heavy sensuality, which immediately places it on a slightly more mature level than Twilight.

Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie- my my, what big eyes she has- as a sexually liberated young woman who's naturally ahead of her time so the teenage audience won't get confused. Valerie's not the biggest anachronism in the film, mind- that's the diegetic use of the pop-y soundtrack at a celebration that takes place in the 17th century at the latest. I didn't hate this film, but it's in moments like that that I realised its head isn't entirely screwed on right. But the way that her uncommon personality (for the time, anyway) plays into the plot is related to how anyone in her hometown could be the werewolf, and she comes under suspicion in a manner that can be related to the Salem witch hunts.

Valerie's promiscuity could be what gives her potential suitors wood, but I'd argue that Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons are quite wooden enough in their acting without the comely Seyfried on hand. The pair have one major scene together, which is framed against a backdrop of a log cabin- there has never been so much woodenness on-screen in a single scene as each of them struggles over their angsty and supposed testosterone-laden dialogue. Fernandez and Irons are leading men even more teaky than Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner- an incredible feat, so this film has that going for it over Twilight as well.

To square off against the earnest performance by Seyfried then, we have Gary Oldman, and thank heavens for that. The brilliance of Oldman is that recent years have shown his great capabilities with understated performances like his Commissioner Gordon, but he's still able to carry off some spectacular overacting. His Father Solomon appears to have wandered in from another film, but in a way that actually reveals the film as a piece of high camp. What's good about that is it feels like only Oldman and we, the audience, have picked up on this.

However, there's only so far you can carry camp when you don't know you're making camp, and for the large part, Red Riding Hood doesn't hold together. The Salem witch hunt parallels are intriguing, but because it's a story based on Little Red Riding Hood, these parallels serve to distract from what the film is building towards, which is the mystery of the werewolf's identity. If you're keeping an eye on that while Valerie's integrity and virtue is being interrogated, you realise there's only about two feasible culprits, so the half-hearted attempts at red herrings come off as just that- half-hearted. As a result, the plot twist and ending are harried and, frankly, piss-poor.

Weirdly, the production design seems to have been done by somebody with a cactus fetish, as spiky little spines seem to protrude from every single surface in the film. The buildings, the trees, the bannisters; they all look like they'd do Gary Oldman an injury with all that scenery chewing he's doing. The perpetual snow does little to soften it, and nor do the swooping establishing shots, which I now associate more with Twilight, by their overuse, than with The Lord of the Rings.

There's not a tranny wolf in sight in Red Riding Hood, which takes a well-known tale and spills it into the Twilight mold. Comparable to the upcoming Beastly, it makes a decent approach even if the dreadful script prevents it from landing. So I can't say it's effective in the way the filmmakers would hope, but it did give me a fair bit of entertainment, via Gary Oldman's bravura histrionics, and it also has buckets of unintentional hilarity. It fizzles when it's supposed to smoulder. It's a wildly uneven, castrated teen romance and it's too-cool-for-the-room in a way that means I can't even recommend it for the inadvertent yuks.

Red Riding Hood is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Red Riding Hood, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


Nick L. said...

Great review. I haven't seen this, but I saw its mediocrity coming from a mile away. I'm amazed at how well you write your reviews. To be honest, I'm so jealous of your wonderful blog, with your frequent posts, and whatnot. I've been wondering: how were you able to get tabs on here? If there's any html code I must enter, I wouldn't have any problem with that. :)

Mark said...

Thanks for the comment!
Dyou mean the page tabs at the top? Have a poke around on the Blogger dashboard- under the Edit Posts tab, there's an Edit Pages tab, where you can just add pages and whatnot. Hope that helps, I'm not hugely technical.

Nick L. said...

Okay, thanks. I'll try that. :)