“It appeals to the 14-year-old girl in me,” Gary Oldman told Conan O’Brien about the new Red Riding Hood from Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. Oldman, who plays a mysterious, menacing wolf-hunter in the film, probably knows that 14-year-olds are the only possible audience for this clunky mess, and then only as a stopgap while waiting for the next Twilight.
There are so many jarring echoes here, you have to wonder if Hardwicke was deliberately making a Twilight substitute. Red Riding Hood is set in a Medieval storybook village, although the swooping overhead shots of the forest at the start make it look like we’re heading into Twilight land. Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, a girl whose older sister is the latest victim of the village werewolf, who is about to kill again because it’s Blood Moon time.
Valerie’s (and what kind of name is that for a Medieval fairy tale heroine?) parents have arranged her marriage to wealthy Henry (Max Irons) although she loves poor wood-chopper Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). Her father – and this was really uncalled for – is played by Billy Burke, Bella’s Dad in the Twilight movies. It’s distracting enough that every time a wolf shows up you expect him to morph into Jacob.
Thank goodness for Oldman, who arrives wearing purple velvet robes, and tells the villagers the werewolf is among them, hiding in human form. Oldman seems to have come from a different movie, and a better one. This film has absolutely no tension, not when it leads us to wonder if Granny (Julie Christie) is the wolf, not when Valerie has to choose between her two suitors. Irons and Fernandez are both extremely cute, but too much alike to offer that Edward-Jacob difference.
The script is serviceable, no more or less, so the film needed to be directed with great flourish. Instead, Hardwicke clumsily walks us through. What a waste of possibilities because, like so many fairy tales, “Little Red Riding Hood” is filled with deadly threats and adult undertones. Whether those themes are interpreted literally as fear of being killed by a wolf, or metaphorically as innocence confronting the turmoil of sexual passion, the audience should feel something. At the very least this version should create an aura of intense fear and paranoia; anyone in the village might be a wolf in disguise. We should share the hormonal, romantic rush of Valerie’s emotions in her love triangle. The film shouldn’t hit us like a snoozy lullaby.
And Hardwicke is no help to the actors. Another Twilight similarity: except for Oldman and Christie, the actors conspicuously deliver lines rather than speak to other human beings (or wolves as the case may be). Seyfried sounds like some California girl who’d rather be surfing.
Imagine how bad a film has to be to make Twilight look so good.
You can read my suggestions for sophisticated films that grapple with the dark undertones of fairy tales, and see the Red Riding Hood trailer, here.