By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf? Not us. And here’s why.
Nor is she so innocent or vulnerable or oblivious. In fact, she’s kind of naughty. Still, she remains in big trouble.
This version of the classic fable, Red Riding Hood, is a storybook horror thriller set in the medieval village of Daggerhorn, which is being haunted by a murderous werewolf (as opposed to the wolf that usually turns up in variations of this cautionary tale for tots).
The red-caped Valerie, played by Amanda Seyfried, is a striking young woman torn between two men. One of them, Peter, played by Shiloh Fernandez, is a poor woodcutter, an outsider her parents disapprove of. The other, the wealthy blacksmith Henry, played by Max Irons, not only has her parents’ approval but they have arranged for her to marry him.
That’s why Valerie and Peter plan to run away together. But they’re stopped by the news that Valerie’s older sister has been killed by a werewolf in the forest surrounding their village.
It turns out that the villagers have appeased the beast over the years by offering a monthly animal sacrifice. But now the werewolf has taken a human life.
So the terrorized villagers call on Father Solomon, a werewolf-hunting priest played by the justifiably hammy Gary Oldman, who wolfs down the scenery as his character sets up to help them kill the demon.
He’s happy to do so, but he provides a new wrinkle when he informs them that the shapeshifting werewolf turns back into human form by day and could thus be any one of them, including perhaps someone whom Valerie loves.
Then another death is reported.
With the love triangle, supernatural storyline, and violent murders, this enterprise sure sounds Twilight-y, especially when you consider that Twilight and Red Riding Hood share a director, Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, The Nativity Story, Lords of Dogtown), who also executive produced Red Riding Hood with Leonardo DiCaprio serving as a producer.
Hardwicke goes for a spare, stylized look, but errs (as she did in Twilight) with her extensive use of a CGI creature that is so poorly animated and obviously, shockingly fake that it gets unintentional giggles and should therefore play well on the midnight cult-flick circuit.
Especially when it speaks. Yep, it speaks.
This gothic and strangely sober girl-who-cried-werewolf chiller, scripted by David Leslie Johnson, lacks tension and suspense in the extreme. Not that it’s aimed at kids, featuring as it does more than its share of insinuatingly ambiguous symbolism.
But the unnecessarily humorless approach helps the film to wear out its welcome, although it is somewhat redeemed by the whodunit thrust, bolstered by a festival of red herrings and usual suspects, which at least keeps the parlor-game element bubbling and manages to preserve its ultimate surprise till quite late in the game.
The problem is that we do not build up enough interest or sympathy in the heroine to care very much about the film’s climax or outcome.
And the supporting cast, which includes Valerie’s mom Virginia Madsen, grandmom Julie Christie, and dad Billy Burke — werewolf suspects all — do little to liven things up.
Mostly, Hardwicke depends on the photogenic face of Seyfried, whose big blue eyes and ruby-red lips she frames in closeup repeatedly, as if to distract us from the cartoon beastie that ruins the movie. She could have called the film Poyz n the Hood.
So, yes, what big eyes she has, but they’re still worth only 2 stars out of 4. Red Riding Hood is a twisted but earnest-to-a-fault fairy tale that fails to terrify. Simply put, it’s hardly horror with a horrific creature this horrible.