It’s difficult to figure out why Red Riding Hood was made. Even as a straight cash grab, the story of Little Red Riding Hood is old and ubiquitous enough that spending over $40 million making a movie of it is odd. Regardless how one feels about giving timeless stories a modern, edgy, timely spin, at least it makes sense if what you’re cynically trying to do is get teenagers who don’t know any better to give you their money. The fact that it was done so straight and so guilelessly was curious to me. I would have welcomed that approach, had the execution not been so weirdly bad.
The fact that it was bad wasn’t weird. It’s a movie version of Little Red Riding Hood. No matter how optimistic and open-minded one tries to be, the very idea itself is almost a satire of the movie business. No, the weirdness is in the way it manages to be bad. It’s extremely earnest, but in the way a grade school play about Little Red Riding Hood would be, with the same quality of writing. The movie gets some points for Amanda Seyfried’s performance in the lead; she isn’t given much to work with but plays Valerie, the heroine, as a resourceful, independent young woman unapologetic and refreshingly non-angsty about her romantic choices. She’s just good enough that you wish she was in a better movie.
Everyone else in the movie is so subdued you want to check to see if they’re awake. They’re like, “There is a wolf in the woods. We must kill it.” “No, we must summon Gary Oldman. He will know what to do.” “No, we must kill the wolf. Let us go and do so.” It’s as if the dial on everyone’s level of urgency is turned down two or three levels down from normal. The actors (except Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman) all deliver their lines like they’re delivering lines rather than acting, making it feel a little like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, where—to spoil that evergreen cinematic classic for those of you fortunate enough to have missed it—a group of people discontent with the modern world go off to the woods to pretend it’s the 19th century. I kept waiting for that to be the case in Red Riding Hood as well, that some weird bunch of apostate Catholic Ren Faire nerds went out to the middle of nowhere in Canada and took turns putting on the werewolf costume. Alas, this masterpiece will have to wait until some studio executive, looking forward to an early and embarrassing retirement, gives me money.
When Gary Oldman shows up as a monomaniacal Van Helsing type, things are promising until it becomes clear that he too is incredibly subdued; while Gary Oldman underplaying is still more over-the-top than most people’s hammiest, it’s still disappointing to see him show up as a monomaniacal Van Helsing type and only go about 55-60% as crazy as we all fondly know he’s capable. Still, that’s more signs of life than most anyone else in the movie shows.
This isn’t because they’re going for minimalism and restraint. There are generation-spanning feuds, lurid melodramatic family secrets, arranged loveless marriages, defiantly passionate assignations with forbidden lovers, revenge killings, hints of incest, Gary Oldman killing people by locking them inside a metal elephant and lighting a fire underneath until they burn to death…but all with an incredibly emotionless, unipolar quality one normally associates with cultists, robots, or people who could use a cup of coffee.
Without even a remotely compelling love story to latch onto (the very least one could expect for a movie apparently aimed at teenage girls), we’re left, in the absence of anything else to compel interest, a very clumsily executed guessing game as to who the (big bad) werewolf menacing the village is. The prime suspects are Amanda Seyfried’s grandmother (Julie Christie, or Little Red Herring Hood if you like), her sexy boyfriend (she seems to think so; maybe she has a thing for guys with chronic fatigue syndrome), the boring dude she’s supposed to marry (who’s so boring he even puts himself to sleep; shame, cuz he’s played by Jeremy Irons’ son), and Gary Oldman, under the “methinks the lady doth protest too much” theory. There’s a repeated thing where the camera zooms in on people’s eyes—the werewolf has human eyes, that are brownish—except the picture’s so badly lit we can’t tell whose eyes are brown and whose aren’t, so it’s not much of a clue.
I really liked Catherine Hardwicke’s directing debut, Thirteen, which was kind of lurid and melodramatic too but actually good. Since then, though, it’s been fictional remakes of documentaries about skateboarding, oddly inert things about the Virgin Mary, Twilight, and now this badly-written (by the guy who’s writing the sequel to the remake of Clash of the Titans; forewarned is forearmed), lazily directed thing. It’s not even energetic enough to be “good” bad. It’s an hour and half of wheel-spinning buildup to the five minute version of Little Red Riding Hood you’re told when you’re a little kid—told with solemn, straight-faced, slightly sleepy sincerity—and five minutes of denouement. And in the end, we’re left to ask, “why?” Not in any kind of desperate cry into the void for enlightenment, but with a shrug. And a yawn.