Red Riding Hood: a big, bad disaster


Fairy tales have been adapted for the screen many, many times over the years, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Red Riding Hood belongs in the latter category.

When interpreted for the 21st century, fairy tales are an alluring form of cinematic escapism. They allow us to leave our real-life troubles behind and picture ourselves as a modern-day Cinderella or Prince Charming. Think films like Ever After, A Cinderella Story, Ella Enchanted, Enchanted, and even Shrek.

This year more big-screen fairy tales will be made. Beauty and the Beast adaptation Beastly stars Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens and Mary-Kate Olsen, and The Sleeping Beauty features Australian actress Emily Browning. A trilogy of films based on the tale of Snow White will begin production this year. Intended for adult audiences, Snow White and the Huntsman will star Hollywood-hot-property Kristen Stewart as the fair heroine and Charlize Theron as the evil queen.

Production companies see real potential in the genre. Red Riding Hood’s array of talent includes director-of-the-moment Catherine Hardwicke, producer Leonardo DiCaprio, and a cast worthy of a beauty pageant. How could it all go so wrong?

Ok, so it’s not all bad. Amanda Seyfried is a genuine talent. In Mean Girls she was the ditsy but endearing airhead Karen. She won our hearts in Mamma Mia! with her glowing smile, surprisingly good singing voice, and the ability to hold her own next to veterans Meryl Streep and Colin Firth. In Jennifer’s Body she provided a box office bomb with its only redeemable quality. In Chloe she successfully seduced both Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore. In Red Riding Hood Seyfried is breathtaking as the lead, Valerie, who is caught in a whirlwind of overwhelmingly dramatic situations, from her unwelcome betrothal to metal smith Henry (Jeremy Irons’ promising son Max) and secret love with childhood friend Peter (a smouldering Shiloh Fernandez), to the mysterious and frightening threat of “the wolf,” who seems to have taken an interest in her. Unfortunately Seyfried’s gifts are smothered by too many close-up shots of her wide-eyed and breathless with terror, which instead of adding drama, fall flat. The dialogue, awfully executed by David Johnson, is frequently cringe-worthy, and includes lines such as: “I could just eat you up” and the laughable “Grandmother, what big eyes you have!”

Shiloh Fernandez is another of Red Riding Hood’s few saving graces. His piercing gazes and physical intensity add most of the sizzle to the movie. The highly-charged sexual chemistry between the two leads is one good reason not to walk out of the cinema early. The young Max Irons is a welcome breath of fresh air and gives a solid performance.

From the first moment to the final credits, Red Riding Hood is visually stunning. The colours are vivid and the snow-covered dreamy forest and picturesque village of Daggerhorn simply gorgeous. It is a beautifully realised image of a magical and mysterious environment, equal parts romance and horror. The musical score is hauntingly beautiful, a dark and ominous presence sublimely engineered by Brian Reitzell and Alex Heffes. This movie is very pretty to look at, and lovely to listen to. And that’s where the good ends.

Gary Oldman’s contribution here is unnecessary. The respected actor is embarrassing as the poorly-constructed and creepy Father Solomon, who arrives at Daggerhorn to help rid the village of the wolf. Oldman sports terrible hair and a peculiar accent and his awkward attempts to add more mystery to the plot only lend another layer of befuddlement to an already chaotic storyline. The casting of Billy Burke as Valerie’s father Cesaire is just wrong, wrong, wrong. His acting is atrocious, but he also plays the father role in The Twilight Saga. Burke’s part is only one of many Twilight references Catherine Hardwicke has used throughout Red Riding Hood, and it’s shudder-inducing. The initial wide-shot used in the opening credits looks like Hardwicke simply ripped off images from her own directorial work on Twilight and dumped them into this film, CGI-ing a mythical village in the middle of it. Sure, it’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but we’ve seen it before. This doesn’t convince the audience of consistency in film-making style. It’s repetitious, unoriginal, and lazy. Hardwicke has made other critical casting errors too, using the same Twilight-esque formula to sex up a classic fairy tale with a love triangle cliché, over-protective parents, bitchy “best friends,” and men who morph into werewolves. Daggerhorn is just another Forks, Valerie a blonde Bella in a red cape.

The most disappointing thing about Red Riding Hood is the simple fact that the story is a totally muddled and warped adult interpretation of the fairy tale, with the emphasis on trying to make it accessible and exciting to a young audience. This movie is not exactly confusing, but it’s confused. It’s hard to understand what Hardwicke was trying to do. More difficult to fathom is how on earth Leonardo DiCaprio got roped into a producer credit. The moral of the story: stick to the brilliance of the original material. The reason other modernised fairytales have worked in the past is that filmmakers paid due respect to the roots of the story, and gently wove in their own touches. In this case, obscure additions have been deposited clumsily right on top of a perfectly good fable, and it doesn’t pay off.

Director: Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Lords of Dogtown, Thirteen)

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

Theatre release: March 2011

Studio: Warner Bros.

Rating: PG-13 (violence and creature terror, and some sensuality)

Featured image: Amanda Seyfried as Valerie in Red Riding Hood. Photo by Kimberly French, courtesy Warner Bros.

One Reply to “Red Riding Hood: a big, bad disaster

  1. Thanks for a great and thorough review, Ms. Dawson. I’m much too old to be reading “fairy” tales (I prefer the term folk tales) but I find them fascinating, especially when reading Marina Warner’s analyses or Angela Carter’s retellings.

    For a brief time I hoped that the new wave of filmed fairy tales might be of the quality of Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast”, Jacques Demy’s “Donkey Skin” or Neil Jordan’s “Company of Wolves” (based on Angela Carter’s stories).

    I am forewarned by your fair and informed review; it’s not a film for me.

    The lines that you quote remind me of the man becomes werewolf in “Company of Wolves” He says to his new bride: “I’m just slipping outside to answer a call of nature” Better than the “big eyes” line.

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