Red Riding Hood

Valerie (Seyfried) and woodcutter Peter are in love, but her parents want to marry her off to wealthier metal smith Henry (Irons). So far, so medieval romcom. But that’s not all that Valerie has to contend with; her village is cursed by the monthly visitations of a werewolf, to whom they sacrifice their best livestock in return for safety. Despite this, the wolf has killed one victim so far this month – Valerie’s sister Lucy. The village priest decides to summon Father Solomon (Oldman), an expert in the supernatural, to help rid them of this turbulent beast. When Father Solomon tells them that the werewolf must be one of their own, suspicion between neighbours grows, and Valerie has more reason than anyone to fear the wolf is someone close to her. Even worse, it is the month of the blood moon, a phenomenon which occurs once every 13 years, and means that anyone bitten by the wolf will also be turned.

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With Catherine Hardwicke in the director’s chair, Red Riding Hood has not been able to avoid comparisons to Twilight; in fact it’s positively encouraged them. The similarities continue with a love triangle, the presence of a werewolf and the pent-up sexual tension, complete with heaving breasts and heavy-lidded gazes. Thankfully, however, Red Riding Hood has somewhat more of a plot to carry the film forward – the mystery of the werewolf’s human identity, which at least keeps you guessing up until the end.

Gary Oldman is one of the film’s highlights– he seems to be having a fantastic time hamming up his role as the menacing Father Solomon. Obviously based on notorious 17th Century witch hunters like Matthew Hopkins, Solomon’s quest to destroy the wolf is relentless, sparing no one who stands in his way. With his medieval torture implements and intensely creepy silver fingernails (the only metal which can kill the monster), he is simultaneously a figure of fear and the only option the frightened villagers have.

Wide-eyed Amanda Seyfried does a decent job as the heroine, trying her best to give her character some sort of growth, while newcomers Fernandez and Irons as the love rivals are fairly generic – though perhaps they could have done more with meatier roles.

Purists should beware; the only elements of the Brothers Grimm tale that remain are the wolf, the red cloak and a grandmother that lives outside the village. This in itself is not necessarily a criticism – fairy tale adaptations have always had fun playing around with the original stories, and Hardwicke’s intention seems to have been to take the overriding themes (sex, danger of the unknown, trust) and contort them into a new interpretation. However, decent modern adaptations demand that the old stories are twisted and darkened (think Pan’s Labyrinth), and while Hardwicke does her best, there is nothing that is truly subversive or shocking about her film. She deals in pseudo-horror, pseudo-sex (although there’s plenty of that)– and this is while translating from a canon that revels in the gruesome and grim. Those shades of black that she does bring in have been borrowed from previous adaptations; namely Angela Carter, who deals in feminist reconstructions of fairy tales (the grandmother is the wolf, or the young girl seduces the wolf, who is also the hunter).

Hardwicke does a lot of ‘atmosphere’; some which works, some which doesn’t. The shots of the Canadian landscape are beautiful, as is her colour scheme – the bright red cloak against white snow and the deep black of the shadows. But some of the village shots feel far too stagey; the final face-off in front of the church is swathed in buckets of dry ice which only highlight the cardboard set-up. Subtleties are not her forte either; from the werewolf tantalising Valerie with its true identity (it talks to her) to the constant red herrings thrown at the audience.

Over the top while slightly insipid, anyone interested in a truly gritty retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s story should look elsewhere. However, Twihards and fans of light horror fantasy will find much to enjoy.

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