Red Riding Hood ✮✮
Running with Wolves
by Glenn Lovell
We always suspected the kid in the red cloak had a dark side.
The new “Red Riding Hood” starring Amanda Seyfried confirms our suspicions. It has Red, not so little anymore, communicating telepathically with the Big Bad Wolf and standing trial as a witch for her sins.
Of course, the fact that Red/Valerie is something of the village flirt doesn’t help her case. She’s romantically involved with Peter the woodcutter (Shiloh Fernandez) but promised to Henry the village smithy (Max Irons). Guess who she dances with at the Blood Moon bacchanalia.
We’re obviously not in Brothers Grimm country anymore. The deep, dark forest now hides jealousy, lust and the threat of incest. Sweet little Grandmother is portrayed by the still comely Julie Christie, and Father Solomon, the fearless wolf killer who travels by armored coach, is played Gary Oldman. Solomon, who has had previous run-ins with the wolf, sniffs conspiracies in his sleep. The guy could be modeled after Matthew Hopkins, England’s Witchfinder General.
And Wolfie, who’s now a werewolf? He, or she, could be anyone in the village. Which adds an element of mass hysteria a la “The Crucible.”
Capably directed by Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight,” “Thirteen”), this fairy tale looks a whole lot better than it tells, probably because Hardwicke started out as a production designer. We open with sweeping aerial shots of what’s supposed to be a medieval village. In voiceover, Valerie recalls that as a girl, when she fetched water, she had strict instructions “not to talk to strangers and come straight home.”
What do you bet this will be a story about a girl who tests limits?
Like the “Twilight” series, “RRH” arduously courts the swoony teen demographic by cloaking the damsel in peasant couture and dealing with such timely issues as village cliques and bullying.
The doe-eyed Seyfried projects more cunning than charm. Whether being chased through the woods or seduced by candlelight, she seems preoccupied, as if memorizing lines from another movie. The interchangeable male leads were obviously cast more for their Prince Charming looks than their abilities to emote. For the record, Fernandez is the smoldering one, Irons the pouty one. Virginia Madsen is most unsympathetic as Red’s mother; Lukas Haas, miscast as a village pastor, has way too many suspicious reaction shots to make him a viable suspect; and Oldman ‒ channeling Vincent Price in “The Masque of Red Death”? ‒ sinks his teeth into a role that calls for floor-length robes, as well as straight readings of such lines as “Lock him up ‒ in the Elephant!” (Note: The Elephant is a kiln-like torture chamber on wheels.)
Only Christie comes away unscathed as Granny, who now has a distinctly sinister side. The Seyfried-Christie “What big ears you have!”/”The better to hear you with, my child” exchange is the film’s highlight.
Other pluses: the heavily stylized forest, with its spiked trees, and the score by Alex Heffes and Brian Reitzell, which in its horn and drum sections possesses more than a whiff of Celtic folk music.
RED RIDING HOOD ✮✮ With Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Shiloh Fernandez, Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke; scripted by David Johnson from Brother Grimm story. 110 min. Rated: PG-13 (for suggested wolf attacks, chaste lovemaking)