Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, Written by David Johnson, 100 minutes, Rated PG-13.
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
Werewolves and the women who love them are all the rage in shopping malls, bookstores and movie theaters these days, but what "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke brings to this retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood" is just plain confusing. Hardwicke baits Twi-hards with the promise of supernatural teen romance but stumbles between her interest in Gothic horror and theatrical drama, with overacting and corsets a-plenty.
Hardwicke’s tale offers a bit more than a walk to Grandma’s house. Here, the wearer of the hood is Valerie, a young girl whose town is the age-old haunt of a local werewolf. For two generations, the villain stalked the village, so the natives bring in Brother Solomon (Gary Oldman), a werewolf hunter and religious fanatic, to vanquish the beast. However, he doesn’t do much to calm things when he informs the citizens that a wolf walks among them.
But that’s not all on Valerie’s plate. Her longtime love affair with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) comes under fire when her mother sternly encourages a relationship with the wealthier Henry. If that weren’t bad enough, the wolf attacks the town in plain sight and speaks to Valerie, asking her to run away with him. After this brief conversation, Valerie is the subject of a witch-hunt, where she must not only attempt to figure out who’s the wolf, but also clear her sullied name.
Hardwicke dirties the playing field with convoluted mystery and stretches the tale too thin. Valerie’s trials offer so many confusing twists and frustrating dead ends, that her struggle causes vexation not sympathy. The director’s main interest, Valerie’s bourgeoning but oppressed sexuality, appears in overt visual motifs and vain panting. But for every flowing red cape and fiery embrace, there’s another distracting plot device to defuse the passion.
The cast appears equally confused as they move between Gothic romance and ridiculous camp. Each line of David Johnson’s screenplay falls awkwardly from the actors’ lips and hits the ground hard. This causes many unintentionally funny moments and too few dramatic ones. Seyfried and her suitors recite with gusto, yet they never seem too interested. Oldman hams it up and Seyfried stares wantonly at her suitors.
Instead of focusing on the wolf’s deceit, “Red Riding Hood” accidentally shows its own artifice. Against the phony sets and effects, Valerie’s world seems more like a cheap stage rather than an immersive fantasy world, making the film’s own flaws and missed opportunities clear as day even in the dark of night.