|INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review)|
|Cinema Signal: Too imitative to be anything but a dud.|
"Red Riding Hood"
There oughta' be a law against distorting classic fables in the name of updating or modernization. My guess about this act of franchise desperation is that the only people who enjoyed playing with the elements of "Little Red Riding Hood," (the fairy tale)--or are likely to--were director Catherine Hardwicke and her writing associate Sarah Blakley-Cartwright, a 21-year old graduate of Barnard College's creative writing program and actress in Hardwicke's five films with whom she collaborated on novelizing the new version for Little Brown Publishing Co.
The point of all the effort seems to have been for Hardwicke--whose feminist approach to content and filmmaking haven't proven particularly inspirational--to initiate a franchise of her own after being thrown off the Twilight series after one. Plot mechanics here make it clear that she hoped to accomplish this by rubber stamping what she calculated was the key to Twilight's success--a pretty maiden being wooed by two handsome lads, one of whom is a werewolf. Did this actually sound good in her pitch to Warner's?
Starting just with the visual concept of a werewolf You'd think the studio would insist that Hardwicke's would show some originality. Instead, it looks like a worn reject of the Twilight version salvaged from the costume department's garbage bin. Or would that be a reuse of the CGI elements? But, hey, recycling is good.
Our central character is Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) and she lives in Daggerhorn, a medievel forest village which, for years, has been leaving offerings for the local werewolf that prowls the darkness. The idea is to oblige it to spare the humans. The arrangement, while depending on the good graces of a bloodthirsty monster, has been working... until Valerie's older sister is found mutilated one morning in pure werewolfian style--no forensics necessary.
The men take up what weapons they can find, juice up their courage, and go out looking for their monster, who has clearly crossed a critical line. As if. One among the posse is Henry (Max Irons), Valerie's love interest who comes from the less fortunate class. Do we hear a hush of surprise at his type similarity to Robert Pattinson?
In any case, he's got a competitor for Valerie's affections in well-off Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), who is much preferred by Val's pragmatic mom Suzette (Virginia Madsen) for his more substantial monetary means. Again, shades of Twilight hover over the Lautner character who provides the unrequitable triangulation that arouse girl's hormonal attractions. What we know for sure is that the clock on Valerie's virginity is ticking.
Back to the fairy tale. Valerie's grandmother (Julie Christie) lives in a fairy tale house in a somewhat remote region of the forest but not so far away that Valerie isn't able to spend quality time with her mentor (you know how supportive grandmas are). Val's pop is part of the family landscape, too, but Cesaire (Billy Burke) seems a calm, amiable observer until we learn that he's been harboring a personal hurt for Suzette's marriage to him long ago, when she favored another man.
Don't ask me to tell you much more about these people. Despite Hardwicke's claimed desire to "know more" about the characters by riding close herd on the development of the book, "Red Riding Hood," they all translate pretty much as stock types. But the function they serve is clear. They're there to provide Solomon (Gary Oldman), a traveling werewolf expert channeling a high priest, to inform the villagers that when the moon doesn't shine, their beast lives among them. And no one's beyond suspicioun.
And this is where the level of fear, the play of paranoia and the monster appearances push the decibel level to the point that makes it seem like something dramatic is happening when it's an illusion created to too great an extend by a loud soundtrack, to which is added pounding sound effects. These build a semblance of suspense and mystery that goes wasted in an atmosphere of "been there done that." Stuntwork is artificial to good.
The thematic tree branches that jut out in horizontal menace throughout the film provide a visual touch that may have come from the art department thinking overtime, but it's an idea that seems more vampiric than lycanic as visual cues go.
This is such a director's concept movie that the cast seems to be too involved in interpreting their roles than to add distictiveness to their characters. The girl who doesn't know how to handle two suitors and dithers between them as a means to prolongue the agonies of young love has seen its day. It was brought to the point of exhaustion in the movie Hardwicke modeled so much of this on. Seyfried of the big eyes is too wan and single-noted to give it much fascination or the shot of adrenaline the movie craves.
The DVD and Blu-ray are magnificent productions with incisive, cutting edge technology that fully captures and even enhances the artistry, including the sound track. In addition, its alternate cut and commentaries provide a rather full in-depth experience.
Perhaps the best conceit the movie offers is the hooded shawl in powerful red that grandma knitted. Set against the drab colors of the village setting, the ominously dark forest, and the monotone snow on the ground, it becomes the most audacious visual element in the film. And it gives the promotion department something with brilliance to work with.
~~ Jules Brenner