It's not easy to turn a fairy tale into a movie, but when you decide you want to create the next teen horror-romance franchise, you're got quite a challenge ahead of you. Even the blockbuster Twilight movies have varied quite a bit in quality and tone, but nothing will prepare you for the ghastly OMG! mess that is Red Riding Hood.
The film is set in Daggerhorn, a picturesque medieval village complete with rough-hewn wooden houses and a town square covered in sand and complete with strange totems intended to ward off the evil that is The Wolf. It never looks like anything other than an elaborate sound stage, however, and even in the midst of snowfall, the inhabitants continue to be dressed in lightweight clothes and dancing shoes. Boots? Coats? Apparently they weren't invented yet.
The story centers around the lovely Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who has an obvious Twilight-like choice to make between her long-time heartthrob Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and Henry (Max Irons), the blacksmith's son to whom she has been promised. Surprise! Peter and Henry don't like each other. Surprise! Peter (as in "Peter and the Wolf", get it?) might be the werewolf and is the bad boy orphan of the village, more apt to break the rules than follow them. Henry, by contrast, is a somewhat meek boy who bemoans his lack of courage in the face of adversity.
Once every twelve years a blood moon appears and during that time, the mysterious werewolf's bites turn its victims into werewolves, rather than just killing them. Of course, the werewolf has to restrain its murderous rage and not eviscerate these same victims, but... who in the village could be the werewolf? Grandma, living outside the village in her cute little A-frame? Peter, the bad boy? Henry? Valerie herself?
If I were a sixteen year old girl, I might find this load of nonsense mildly engaging due to the inclusion of big-eyed Amanda Seyfried and the handsome Shiloh Fernandez (who looks remarkably like Edward (Robert Pattinson) from Twilight) and Max Irons, but none of them actually act, the dialog is campy and self-conscious and there are way too few scares for what's billed as a sort of teen horror film. I don't know if I'd even recommend you watching this on cable, it's that bad. It's one of the few films I've seen this year that just begs for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 commentary track. 'nuf said.
I found a lot of the story twists completely incomprehensible. The film opens with a beautiful pan across the countryside, down a rushing river and through a massive, heavily wooded forest until it reaches the little town. We meet Valerie when she's just a young 10yo (played by Megan Charpentier as some sort of Damien-like waif). She and young Peter (Dj Greenburg) trap a rabbit and she kills it with a small knife. This is apparently a profound moment because ten years later it's referenced as proof that she's no different from the werewolf, she's also a killer. Um, it's the middle ages, I'm pretty sure they killed anything they could catch so they could eat, so what's the big deal with the bunny?
I liked the mood and subdued color palette of the film, it almost had the feel of the medieval village in the under-appreciated film The Brothers Grimm, but since the film ends with a ridiculous nod towards possible sequels -- please God, don't let any sequels be made! -- the darkness is unrelieved and it just leaves you exhausted by the end. Worse, it dilutes the impact of the titular red cape, which also ends up being just as washed out and muted as the rest of the costumes.
Special note has to be made of the werewolf itself. On longer shots, it's a satisfying predator, lanky in body and extraordinarily powerful and fast, but when they have closeups of its head, it's got to rank as some of the worst modeling that's made it on screen in the last decade. It looks like a hand puppet and with the voice over (supplied by Archie Rice) dialog being appropriately insipid, the scenes that should have been the most ominous and frightening instead provoked peals of laughter in the theater and shouts that "the doggy needed a treat."
Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) in Red Riding Hood
There's also a banal and bizarre secondary story about Valerie's mother (Virginia Madsen) marrying her father (Billy Burke) though she was really in love with another man, a parallel to Valerie's responsibility to marry Henry rather than her bad boy crush Peter. Except it's obvious to everyone in the village - including her father - that Mom's still in love with this other chap who, by an amazing coincidence, is Henry's father.
Thank goodness for the appearance of medieval hitman Solomon (Gary Oldman), an expert on werewolves from the farther reaches of the kingdom. More restrained than usual, Oldman still offers the only character who emotes at all, overacting in the face of the boring peasants. His expertise with werewolves comes from personal experience, and while we meet his two daughters for a fleeting scene at the beginning of the film, they then conveniently vanish for the rest of the movie. A plot complication avoided.
I cannot in good faith recommend that anyone other than the most die-hard Amanda Seyfried fan watch Red Riding Hood. It's really a jumbled, teen angst mess with music that detracts from the story, exteriors that are clearly shot on a sound stage, a b-list village of rather dim adults, and a gang of teen girls and boys that would be more at home with a "90210" zip code. It's a mess. Skip it.