Sunday 12 April 2020

Movie Review: Red Riding Hood (2011)

A reimagining of the children's folk tale, Red Riding Hood stumbles into a mundane who-is-it guessing game with clumsy execution and limp resolution.

In a small village at the edge of a forest, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is in love with dashing but penniless woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), although her mother Suzette (Virginia Madsen) has arranged for her to marry blacksmith Henry (Max Irons). The village lives in fear of a murderous werewolf, and despite the villagers offering livestock in a monthly ritual sacrifice, Valerie's sister Lucie, who was in love with Henry, is killed by the beast.

The villagers organize a hunting party, invade the wolf's lair and claim to kill it, while Valerie visits her grandmother (Julie Christie), who lives alone inside the forest. The next day Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) and his guards arrive to proclaim that the werewolf is still alive and hiding in human form inside the village. With Valerie torn between two lovers, the werewolf bursts forth, causing carnage. Valerie is the only resident who can communicate with the beast, arousing suspicions she is a witch.

Squarely targeting the teen market enthralled by the Twilight young adult series, Red Riding Hood offers a barely interesting who-is-the-wolf mystery but otherwise reeks of a low budget theatrical production. It was maybe the intention of writer David Leslie Johnson and director Catherine Hardwicke to create an artificial milieu to channel a child's fairy tale imagination, but on the screen the film appears trapped on essentially a single set not unlike what a group of high school students would conceive.

The narrative development is equally truncated. The characters are introduced in a manic rush, Valerie's lovers and their families thrown together in a blur, two overlapping love triangles and assorted parents and a grandparent thrown onto the screen in disarray, with one character literally dead on arrival.

The scenes with special effects featuring the gigantic werewolf alternate between choppy and effective but are always dark, with the blood and gore levels kept to a minimum. The tween-appropriate breathy romance scenes between Valerie and Peter hint at a nexus between the werewolf and burgeoning sexuality, but the resolution is both more mundane and barely coherent.

With Gary Oldman given free reign to chew the limited scenery, Red Riding Hood at least commits to undisguised commentary about religion's arrival making everything worse. Father Solomon leverages fear to gain control, defines the werewolf as residing within and thereby labeling everyone guilty until proven innocent. He turns neighbour against neighbour, imposing confinement and extracting confessions, instigating witch hunts, then torturing and killing individuals in the name of the public good. The more dangerous wolf, it turns out, is the one hiding beneath clerical robes.

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