Mark Reviews Movies


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Billy Burke, Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen, Lukas Haas

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and creature terror, and some sexuality)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 3/11/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 10, 2011

Folk lore becomes a supernatural murder mystery in Red Riding Hood. The wolf is now a werewolf that is frightening the sleepy (because they're too afraid of the big, bad wolf coming to kill their livestock or them) hamlet of Daggerhorn, the villagers are separated into potential victims and suspects, and the girl in the red cloak is torn between two unappealing romantic prospects.

Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is the heroine, the target of the wolf's desire. It demands that she come with it into the woods and run away from this village to live with it ever after, though, we suspect, not too happily. The wolf's words, which only she can hear, sound eerily familiar to a few people in her life, and director Catherine Hardwicke ensures we recall those desperate phrases of yearning, echoed on the soundtrack by the wolf or whichever suspect David Johnson's screenplay wants us to focus upon at that given moment.

Johnson wants us to really, really doubt four people. Firstly, there's Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), Valerie's longtime crush. They used to play in the forest together, catching a rabbit so they can chicken out on slitting its throat (or maybe she didn't, though that point is never really clarified). Now he's a wood cutter, and their relationship has blossomed from childish animal torture to ducking away from the rest of the town to sneak a make-out session or so he can say things that sound suspiciously close to what the wolf tells Valerie.

That doesn't go over too well with Henry (Max Irons), another young man in town whose family has arranged that he marry Valerie. Then again, maybe it does go over just fine with him, since Henry loves her and just wants her to be happy and all those other quasi-noble qualities that make everyone think he's a coward but makes Valerie think that she'd rather be with Peter. Henry, by the by, has a nasty temper when his father is killed by the wolf, so we should, apparently, wonder about the potential of lycanthropy in him.

There's also Valerie's dad (Billy Burke), a heavy drinker who stumbles in and out of frame every so often. He's a suspect because, well, he's in the movie, and it's a bit odd that he, like Peter and Henry, isn't around when the wolf attacks. Isn't it?

Finally, we have Grandma (Julie Christie), who lives deep in the wood among the thorny trees in a cabin that is the opposite of homey. She's always there for words of advice for her granddaughter, and people think she smells kind of weird. There is an actual scene of accusation regarding the way she smells.

This is the game Johnson's script plays with its characters—back and forth between them, as Valerie looks at each with a furrowed brow of distrust before moving on to the next. The four I've mentioned are only the main characters, but at some point during the proceedings, Johnson keeps Valerie on her toes with the local priest (Lukas Haas), a young woman with whom she dances in an attempt to make Peter jealous, and just about everyone else with more screen time than an extra (and even some of the extras look a bit devious). Basically, the wolf's menu consists of a town full of red herrings.

Swaggering into this suffocating atmosphere of who did it without much concern about the why with a traveling show of armored men and an elephant statue is Gary Oldman as Father Solomon.  He's an expert werewolf hunter and grand inquisitor, howling his allegations and showing off the dismembered hand of his dead wife, who turned out to be a werewolf herself. He bellows out the three rules of the werewolf: It is unable to come out during the day, can't walk on holy ground (No one thinks to consecrate the entire town, or Solomon is not the preventative sort), and is susceptible to silver. In the midst of the lackadaisical rising and falling of constant skepticism about who the wolf actually is, Oldman's frenzied performance is much-needed jolt of energy.

Hardwicke's envisioning rarely achieves the sort of nightmarish quality the material suggests. Though picturesque views of wooded hills and dales are many, a sense of foreboding, otherworldly dread comes only once for Red Riding Hood, as Valerie is set out for sacrifice—on an altar of tree stumps and wearing a metallic pig mask—for her amorous wolf. It's a brief moment—one that evokes something unsettling, while the rest of the movie just settles.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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