RED RIDING HOOD begins well in its misguided attempts to plumb the rich territory of what lies beneath the surface of the most persistent of fairy tales, wallowing in the subtext that goes directly to the subconscious, but disguised in a form easily assimilated the most delicate of sensibilities. That remains true here, the unreality of a fairy tale setting rendered with warm earth tones and snow that covers the landscape picturesquely without a trace of the freezing temperatures usually associated with same. The central tale, though, that of a bestial wolf menacing the hallowed innocence of a girl, alas, never takes off in this too-dainty and stylized take on the story that cannot find the sting of longing sexuality even when the heroine essays a literal roll in the hay.
The village harassed most by a wolf nestles snugly in that landscape in an indeterminate place somewhere in Europe, in an indeterminate time somewhere between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Enlightenment. The hovels therein are quaint rather than grimy. The villagers are robust, boasting clear skin and all their teeth. The clearest skin and nicest teeth, other than those of the lupine variety, belong to Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), a comely lass in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) a poor but honest woodcutter, but betrothed by her well-meaning parents (Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen) to Henry (Max Irons) the rich but honest blacksmith. Adding to Valeries angst is the return of the local wolf to its killing ways. Appeased for 20 years by the gift of livestock at the full of every moon, it has violated the bargain by killing Valeries sister. To complicate matters, said sister was in love with Henry, who did not return her affections, smitten as he was and is with Valerie. Enter a werewolf-hunting priest (Gary Oldman) with zeal but no compassion, and Valeries peculiar grandmother (Julie Christie), whose odd way of living alone in the deep dark woods is cause for comment in some circles. The odd way she springs from beneath a coverlet of what looks like wattle and daub with a fetching smile first thing in the morning to her granddaughters consternation is also cause for comment.
Director Catherine Hardwicke has made a specialty of dealing with stories of young girls in difficult situations. THIRTEEN, set squarely in the real world explored the life of a girl of just that age and her disastrously unstructured family life. TWILIGHT followed an older girl in love with a vampire and pursued by a werewolf with amorous rather than deadly intentions. The red riding hood story would seem to be custom made for her ministrations, and yet, what begins as moody quickly turns tedious and then, finally, silly. The frantic camera moves designed to add a sense of vertiginous tension as suspicions of the culprit in all these murders turn from a wild beast in the woods to a heretofore unsuspected villager do nothing but draw attention to the lack of horror or dread as the story progresses. The camera angles leap about in what seems to be the films only real sense of growing desperation. A hushed tone adopted throughout further drains the flick of any flicker of interest. The performances become progressively more wooden as the film itself petrifies. Even Oldmans normal intensity fails to catch fire. Similarly, any attempt to delve into the storys subconscious underpinnings where sex, death, and guilt swirl about one another in a provocative gavotte thuds with a resounding finality.
RED RIDING HOOD is a heavy-handed exercise devoid of even the mildest trace of teen lust with which it should have been suffused along with the usual dollop of parental poor judgment making things worse. Lovely as a snow globe but even less lively, it should send the audience running not just from the theater, but also to the infinitely superior retelling, IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, available on DVD to expunge the memory of this mess from those unfortunate enough to have endured it.