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The obligatory paragraph where the plot is explained seems a bit insulting, but here goes: “Red Riding Hood” is set high in the mountains, in the old timey village of Daggerhorn, where for 20 years the town has lived in peace with a local werewolf by leaving out an offering every full moon.
During this time, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), has been in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) her whole life. But as she comes of age, she learns that her parents have arranged for her to marry Henry, the son of a wealthy family. However, just as Valerie and Peter are about to run off together, tragedy strikes and they have no choice but to stay. Nobody’s going anywhere until this whole werewolf thing is dealt with, with the help of a maniacal werewolf hunter, played by Gary Oldman (Gary Oldman? Maniacal? No!).
When director Catherine Hardwicke said recently of her departure from the “Twilight” franchise, “I do not regret it at all, thank the Lord,” it seemed like the height of classless ingratitude. Having seen “Red Riding Hood” it now seems like the height of laughable hypocrisy, as the scent of “Twilight” is all over this film.
You’ve got a beautiful young girl being fought over by two uber hunky men from very different families, a similarity generic enough to be forgiven. But up in this mountainside village a few centuries ago, everyone and everything looks like they’re at the Medieval Manor--there’s nary a spec of dirt or wear to be seen and everyone is perfectly coiffed. The guys have mousse in their hair, for cryin’ out loud.
Nobody suffers more under Hardwicke’s direction than Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons as Valerie’s two tousle-haired suitors, Peter and Henry. Both performances scream “down at the mall,” a terrible choice that has to be blamed on Hardwicke. The film doesn’t need iambic pentameter, but at least a nod to the cadence of the time would be nice.
Hardwicke’s overuse of handheld camera renders it meaningless here. At first it’s meant to suggest that maybe it’s the wolf watching from the shadows, but it’s so often not the wolf that the technique just becomes annoying. The action sequences are a kind of a mess, too, with the wolf little more than a blur. And when you do get a good look at it, well, it’s less than menacing.
Seyfreid is, however, a great choice to play Valerie, aka Little Red Riding Hood. With her big eyes, full lips and creamy skin she’s exactly what one imagines a teenage Red would look like. Julie Christie, meanwhile, has a blast as Valerie’s grandmother, playing most every scene with a twinkle in her eye. And even at 69, she’s arguably the best looking woman in the whole film.
While the film has plenty of “Twilight”-y teen angst romance nonsense to it, the far better and more interesting story is that whodunit the film develops into, with Oldman as a sadistic Poirot, as writer David Johnson weaves in all manner of misdirection and teases.
“Red Riding Hood” is better than you might expect, but not quite good enough, with Hardwicke’s direction wasting a well crafted story.