You ever meet someone who tried to do too much? Somebody who just tried to achieve in every field they could. Whenever they saw something, they wanted to do it and they wanted to be the best at it. They saw someone playing a violin, they said they were gonna be the best violinist. They saw someone doing their calculus homework, they wanted to be the best at calculus. They saw it, they wanted it and they went after it. Some movies are the same way. They start of as something very simple–let’s say a Grimmification of a fairy tale–but then, through no fault of its own, it becomes a much bigger, weirder and more ambitious thing. It sees the fruit on the trees, the fruit on the vines, the lambs and pigs in the field and it wants to eat them all. Normally, a movie that tries to over-achieve like this ends up spread and worn. Sometimes, they end up divisive, like James Cameron’s most recent opuses Titanic and Avatar. But sometimes, they end up sort of curiously doing one thing well and another thing competently but yet another with some glaring faults.
Red Riding Hood is a fairy tale adaptation in title from the director of the first Twilight movie, Catherine Hardwicke (she also did Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown for some perspective). Twilight came across to me as a movie where a bunch of people just didn’t give a crap about it. I couldn’t tell whether the fault lay in the director’s chair, for not motivating her team; in the young stars’ trailers, for caring more about hooking up with each other than portraying a Mormon woman’s strangely erotic dream on film; with any number of people involved. Part of my reason to see Red Riding Hood was to see whether it was indeed Hardwicke at fault for Twilight‘s quality. The obvious explanation for why Twilight is what it was is the right one of course–there’s only so much work you can do. But it seems like none was done at all. Not so in adapting this story–it’s hardly recognizable, but a lot better for it.
Amanda Seyfried is Valerie, an impossibly beautiful girl for our audience to relate to. When Valerie was young, she killed a rabbit to impress a boy. She mentions early on that she’s never been the good girl her mother and father wanted, but the rest of her character seems pretty solid. Except that she’s engaged to GQ model Henry (Max Irons), but in love with Academy Award eye candy Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). For those of you counting plot ideas, here’s the first one: medieval romance love triangle. However, her village lives in fear of the Wolf, a character so heinous you can hear the capital W. Every full moon, the wolf comes to eat their finest livestock. The night after the movie starts, it kills its first human in years. The men decide to go into the woods and hunt it to kill. Both Henry and Peter are on this expedition. The men are lured into a cave, and, of course, are forced to split up. Henry loses his father to the Wolf, and another man in the village kills a wolf. Gary Oldman shows up, wearing his Sirius Black face as Solomon, and informs the villagers that their wolf that they killed was not the Wolf, for the Wolf is the kind that turns into a man.
Plot-counter: supernatural thriller and romantic drama. Also, the Wolf lives in the village and is one of their number. Supernatural slasher murder mystery romantic drama. See? First paragraph makes sense now, doesn’t it. I can’t blame Red Riding Hood for trying to do so much. It must be hard growing up as the little screenplay that’s the grim and gritty adaptation of the Disneyfied light and fluffy version of an already grim and gritty tale. You gotta do so much to convince people you’re a grown up screenplay, but you also have to deal with the fact that your author didn’t really want to write you as you were. I get the impression the author strongly and desperately wanted to do a slasher picture, because if I were to judge this movie solely on its slasher plot, it’s one of the better original American horror movies in years. The mystery gets a bit ridiculous at times–the Wolf’s human eyes are brown, but so are the eyes of nearly every single person in this town, rending that clue moot–but it’s tense and exciting throughout. There are reasons for everyone to be a wolf and reasons for everyone not to be, but the final reveal made sense. Is it bad that that surprised me?
Sadly, Red Riding Hood‘s slasher excellence is threaded throughout with the romantic plot between Amanda “HNNNNNNG” Seyfried, Max “GQ Model” Irons and Shiloh “He’s like Keanu Reeves, but not in the good way” Fernandez. I kid Shiloh, he can carry a scene and his few jokes are the best in the movie. There’s an excellent scene where these two impeccably handsome men decide to band together to save the woman they both love. I’d previously said to Ailish that I would watch a feature film of Edward and Jacob from Twilight bickering while achieving a common goal without Bella in sight. And then, out of nowhere, I got that plot. True, there were no “does he own a shirt” lines, but it was still good performance from two guys I suspect were hired specifically to be eye candy. There is no way any of these people were that attractive, but it’s a movie. Roll with it.
At the end of it all, Red Riding Hood is many movies. They can be separated into the supernatural slasher thriller and the medieval chaste teen romance. As a slasher, it’s a surprising movie. It’s smart, it’s original, it might be as good as Let Me In if it got its own platform. That movie is a solid THREE AND A HALF STARS. But the teen romance, while an engaging framework for slasher action, is so very rooted in Twilight. It’s easy to brush it off as entirely awful, but it’s not without merit. It would get TWO AND A HALF STARS.
So, THREE STARS