Director Catherine Hardwicke once had a promising career ahead of her. Debuting with the acclaimed film Thirteen she then went on to direct the underrated Lords of Dogtown, then the under seen The Nativity Story before she moved on to the first instalment in the Twilight franchise. Twilight was a massive success; it also set the template for that series po-faced and humourless direction for future sequels. Sadly the talent that made Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown seems to have been pigeonholed into making mass appeal teen romances and she is completely the wrong choice for this re-telling of Red Riding Hood. As a result this film is a mess that collapses under the weight of its own ridiculousness.
Some time in the 1300’s we meet Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) in the small town of Daggerhorn. Valerie is deeply in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez - awful) and has been since childhood much to the disapproval of her mother Suzette (Virginia Madsen) who would prefer she marry rich blacksmith Henry (Max Irons - even worse). This love triangle takes place against the backdrop of a town under constant threat from a werewolf, who attacks every now and then. The werewolf’s latest attack ends in the death of Valerie’s sister and brings to the fore some secrets that Suzette has been keeping from Valerie and her father. Gary Oldman’s wonderfully over the top Solomon rolls into town with his band of werewolf hunters and sets the town further on edge with his suspicions cast on everyone and his extreme methods. Around this time Valerie’s grandma (Julie Christie) gives Valerie the titular red cape and starts to act suspicious (what big eyes you have etc). Despite many opportunities the werewolf seems reluctant to kill Valerie and has some kind of psychic connection to her, revealing itself to be someone that Valerie knows well. This then leads Solomon to proclaim Valerie is a witch.
Red Riding Hood is one of those frustrating films that could have been good in the hands of another director with experience in this sort of thing. The script also needed a bit of a polish before they went into production. The elements were there to tell a cracking gothic yarn but Hardwicke seems unable to commit to making the film go in any of the directions it seems to be pulling in. It’s not violent or twisted enough to be a bold re-telling of a fairy tale and it’s not childish enough to appeal to the masses. The romantic aspect of the film is perhaps the worst part of all, never convincing with the love triangle played out by three planks of wood. It feels oddly raunchy for a 12A film and it seems like Hardwicke really wants to film some steamy scenes but these get stopped just as they get good. The early scenes in this film play out like some kind of medieval soap opera, with someone revealing someone else is not someone’s father and the contrived romance. The acting is woeful from pretty much everyone. Shiloh Fernandez is your basic hot poor kid with a smouldering broodiness but that is about it. Max Irons as his love rival will probably never work again, his performance here is amongst the worst I have ever seen in a mainstream film. He comes across like a kid who has suddenly been shoved on to the school stage in the spotlight and struggles to remember his lines. Even quality thespians like Virginia Madsen, Michael Hogan and Lukas Haas give lacklustre pantomime level performances. It’s basically like Hollyoaks with werewolves. Thank god then for Gary Oldman who seems to be the only one who knows how ridiculous this all is and gets his teeth into his role as witch finder general. There is a pretty good drinking game here somewhere where you have to down your drink every time he reminds us that he killed his werewolf wife. All of these elements work against the film because they don’t seem to be in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing when they could have been turned into strengths.
Maybe I have been spoiled at a young age from watching An American Werewolf in London because I have always had the opinion that the best way to do a werewolf is through practical effects. So I was genuinely surprised that the wolf effects here are quite decent. Yeah the creature is obviously CGI but it works better than the wolves in the Twilight or Underworld films. I would have loved to have seen the wolf cause more carnage than it does though, for all the fear that the townsfolk have of attacks it doesn’t seem to do much damage. Another issue is the setting of this film, set in a small village in the middle of a forest; the production designers seem to want to imitate Tim Burton but again don’t go far enough. Most of the time it’s completely obvious that the whole set is on a sound stage where it’s supposed to be mid winter in the wilderness.
Now by reading the above you may think that I didn’t enjoy this film. I have to give it credit for being so bad it's good though, and I was entertained the entire time. Part of the fun was trying to figure out who the werewolf is and spotting all the stupid mistakes that they made when making this thing. The film may yet become a camp classic because of this or it may well be remembered as the point where the Twilight bubble burst and studios stopped trying to make shallow rubbish with pretty talentless black holes.
If you are 14 and your hormones are going crazy then watch this film by all means. If you are over 20 and looking for something more skillfully done then avoid this one like the Black Death unless you are having some friends over for drinks.
Extras: Alternate Cut and Theatrical Cut, Casting featurettes, Making of, Interviews, Rehearsal footage, Trailer, Music video and Deleted Scenes.
Red Riding Hood is out now on DVD/Blu-ray