Red Riding Hood

Director: Catherine Hardwicke.
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Shiloh Fernandez and Lukas Haas.
Distributor: Roadshow Films
Runtime: 100 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Supernatural themes and violence

It is of little use for sophisticated adults to sniff and turn up their noses at this variation on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. It was not made or geared for them. This is a film with a niche market, the female audience who enjoy the Twilight series. It was directed by Catherine Hardwicke who made Twilight but who has specialised in telling stories about teenage girls, Lords of Dogtown and, especially, Thirteen. She also directed Keisha Castle Hughes as the young Virgin Mary in The Nativity Story.

Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) lives in an isolated mountain village in an era where religion and superstition governed life and attitudes and where werewolves could attack at the time of the blood moon. Valerie is something of a rebel and is in love with another rebel, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez, a woodcutter, whose cast of face and expressions suggest he would be more at home as a Mafia villain), but is to be betrothed to the nice and wealthy, Henry (Max Irons). She has a loving mother (Virginia Madsen) and a drinking father who is seen as something of a loser (Billy Burke). She also has a kind grandmother (Julie Christie) who gives her a red coat with a hood. In this village, everyone speaks with an American accent, including Julie Christie. The film is definitely American audience-friendly.

The adolescent romantic tangles have to take second place when a werewolf attacks and kills Valerie’s sister. While the villagers track a wolf and kill it and celebrate their victory, the local priest (Lukas Haas) has summoned Fr Solomon, a strange mixture of priest, exorcist and inquisitor. He is played by Gary Oldman, reprising something of his celebrated Dracula performance in Coppola’s film, middle European accent and all. The wolf appears, wreaks havoc – but communicates with Valerie who is accused of being a witch.

Of course, the unwary will suspect that the Inquisitor is the wolf. Not so, we soon find out. But it is someone in the village – and, to this reviewer’s embarrassment, among the many possible candidates that the film suggests (strange eyes, strange talk, suspicious behaviour…), he did not pick the villain, a case of diverted attention.

If you accept the premiss and know that this interpretation will be grimmer than Grimm, it is enjoyable in its own teenage Twilight way. The acting quality is mixed (the heroes seem rather unconvincing). Gary Oldman is veering towards over the top. And there is an acceptable bit of cheating in the plot that enables Red Riding Hood to say to Grandmother what big eyes, ears and teeth she has. Sophisticated audiences can forget it and children can rent Hoodwinked or wait for Hoodwinked 2 which is on the way.

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