MOVIE REVIEW: RED RIDING HOOD (2011)
By Michael Arruda
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I liked RED RIDING HOOD. I liked it a lot.
Oh, I REALLY wanted to hate it. I wanted it to be a TWILIGHT clone, just as horribly boring and painful, and since it was directed by Catherine Hardwicke, the woman who directed the first TWILIGHT movie, I figured it would be. I certainly didn’t want to be the only critic in the world singing this movie’s praises, but in this business you gotta tell the truth, and the truth is, there’s a lot to like about RED RIDING HOOD.
We all could have been saved a lot of trouble had the filmmakers decided not to make a movie about Red Riding Hood but just about a werewolf terrorizing a medieval village instead. I mean, why in the world would any adult want to make a movie about Little Red Riding Hood that wasn’t a kid’s movie? What were they thinking? Truth be told, the WORST part about RED RIDING HOOD is its title, and I think a lot of people might not be able to get past the fact that they’re watching a story based on a well-known fairy tale. It’s based on Little Red Riding Hood, so it must be stupid! Well, it’s not.
Forget about the name “Red Riding Hood,” and what you have is a movie about a medieval village terrorized by a savage monstrous werewolf. That’s not such a bad story.
And that’s one of the strengths of this movie. It tells a good story.
In a medieval village in some picturesque unnamed mountainous location, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) but her marriage has been arranged, and she is to marry Henry (Max Irons), since he’s wealthier than the lowly Peter, who is just an orphaned woodcutter. Fate intervenes when Valerie’s sister is murdered by the werewolf that’s been terrorizing the village for years.
In frustration, the men of the village decide to take it upon themselves to hunt down and kill the werewolf once and for all. The men do indeed hunt down and kill a wolf, but Henry’s father is a casualty of the hunt and is killed by the wolf.
Just as the village is about to celebrate, the famed werewolf hunter Solomon (Gary Oldman) arrives with his entourage of werewolf hunters, and he announces to the village that they have killed an ordinary wolf, that the werewolf is still at large. Solomon explains he knows about werewolves firsthand and their secret identities, because years before as he and his men went out to hunt a werewolf that had been terrorizing his village, he cut off the beast’s hand, and when he returned home, he found his wife bleeding to death, missing her hand.
He tells them the werewolf is still alive and most likely is one of the people living right there in their village.
The villagers basically tell Solomon to go to hell, that they’re going to party anyway, and they do. During the celebration, the werewolf does attack and kills a whole bunch of people, including some of Solomon’s men. The beast eventually escapes, but not before it corners Valerie and speaks to her—at least, Valerie understands its language, others only hear growls. The wolf tells her he wants to take her away with him into the countryside and make her into a creature like him.
When Solomon learns that Valerie communicated with the werewolf, he arrests her for witchcraft, a charge she doesn’t deny since she admits to understanding the werewolf. She also tells him what the wolf said to her, which gives Solomon the idea to use her as bait. Since the werewolf wants her, he will come for her.
And come for her he does. Valerie escapes and eventually finds her way to her grandmother’s house, and it is there, just as in the fairy tale, where the mystery is resolved, the werewolf’s identity is revealed, and Valerie’s fate is sealed.
I realize this movie is getting slammed by a lot of critics, but I have to tell you, I was entertained throughout, and when all was said and done, I really liked this one.
First off, RED RIDING HOOD looks terrific. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for period pieces, and the sets and costumes brought back memories of Hammer Films in their heyday, even though Hammer’s stories were primarily 19th century stories, and this one takes place during medieval times. RED RIDING HOOD looks better than SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011), which also took place during medieval times.
The costumes by Cindy Evans were excellent, as was the use of color and cinematography by Mandy Walker. Sure, a lot of the long shots of the village are CGI, but this is a fantasy, and the look really works here. The movie doesn’t suffer for it.
And yes, director Catherine Hardwicke directed the first TWILIGHT movie, and so the obvious comparisons must follow, but I’m here to tell you, as someone who suffered through those TWILIGHT movies, RED RIDING HOOD is much better than the films in that series. Sure, there are teens in love in both movies, but the characters in this one aren’t annoying. And stuff actually happens in this movie! It’s not boring.
I actually thought Hardwicke did a really good job at the helm. The werewolf scenes are actually pretty cool in this one, and the celebration scene, the feast where the villagers celebrate the “death” of the werewolf, was surprisingly erotic and reminded me of something you’d see in THE WICKER MAN (1973).
A lot has been made of the weak story, but I found the story pretty darn interesting, and I enjoyed the screenplay by David Johnson. He also wrote ORPHAN, which was one of my favorite movies from 2009. I thought the mystery regarding the identity of the werewolf really worked here. The story does a good job of keeping you guessing. Nearly everyone Valerie comes in contact with is a suspect.
Speaking of Valerie, that’s another reason this movie is better than TWILIGHT. RED RIDING HOOD has Amanda Seyfried in the lead role. Seyfried, who we saw in CHLOE (2009) is beautiful, and she’s amazing to watch. She projects such a strong sexuality to her roles, she’s almost hypnotic. I could watch her act all day.
The rest of the cast is also very good. Gary Oldman as the tyrannical werewolf hunter Solomon – so driven he wears silver fingernails—provides his usual stellar performance. It’s nothing we haven’t seen him do before, but he’s damn good at it!
I thought both Shiloh Fernandez as Peter and Max Irons as Henry were very likeable. They were certainly more enjoyable to watch than Edward the vampire and the buff shirtless werewolf, Jacob, from the TWILIGHT series.
Julie Christie was excellent as grandmother, as were Billy Burke (Bella’s dad from TWILIGHT) as Valerie’s dad and Virginia Madsen (THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (2009)] as her mom. Lukas Haas also stood out as Father Auguste, the young priest who at first admires Solomon but soon grows wary of his overzealous methods. I was really surprised by how interesting all these characters were.
Now, the werewolf itself— yes, it’s CGI created, and no, it’s not quite as good as what we saw in THE WOLFMAN (2010), but it is much better than the cutesy creatures we saw in TWILIGHT. This werewolf is even a little scary, and to be honest, in a story like this, based on the Red Riding Hood fairy tale, the look of beast works.
A talking werewolf could have been incredibly awful, but its mouth doesn’t move, and so it doesn’t play like a character in a kids’ movie.
I also really enjoyed the music score by Alex Heffes and Brian Reitzell. It was lively, haunting, and erotic, all in the right places.
RED RIDING HOOD is not hardcore horror. But it is an entertaining well-made movie that tells a compelling story about a monstrous werewolf terrorizing a medieval village, has likeable characters, provides a decent mystery, and sports above-average special effects. I like a good werewolf story, and as werewolves stories go, RED RIDING HOOD is excellent.
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda