My expectations were unclear before watching Red Riding Hood. Would director Catherine Hardwicke give us another gooey teenage romance like Twilight, would it be a bloody adult fairytale like Company of Wolves, or would it be an exercise in paranoia like The Thing with werewolves?
As it turns out, it’s a little of all of those. You would hope that this combination might result in something entirely original, transcending its inspirations. Unfortunately, not quite so. For the most part, its components gel nicely enough; however, there’s nothing to raise it beyond merely average.
My, what big eyes you have!
Visually, Red Riding Hood has a curious style. From the opening aerial shots closing in on a medieval village, things don’t look “real”. After my initial fear that the sets and effects were going to be distractingly fake, I realized it was simply part of the fairy tale world the movie is trying to create. Nothing looks quite real. Further, nothing is quite in focus; the movie seems filmed through a lens lightly spread with Vaseline.
But this style is not carried through consistently with all the movie’s images. Some of the images are interesting; for example, the trees all have odd spiky branches. But not all of the images are this unique; for example, the houses look like regular houses. And while some of the instruments used during a celebration look like they were created for this imaginary world, not all of them do.
My, what big ears you have!
One of the good things about Red Riding Hood is the music by composer Brian Reitzell (30 Days of Night). Unlike the visuals, the sounds are consistently different. And for the most part the soundtrack resists the urge to bombard us with alternative rock ballads full of angst. Even the couple of songs that do finally appear near the end share the unique sound of the score.
But the rest of the sound, the dialogue, is not as special. Points are made to establish the village in reality; for example, Gary Oldman mentions that the Trojan horse-like elephant he wheels into town is an idea he got from the Romans. Yet nobody speaks like they are from that time period; modern phrases and terminology litter the script.
My what big teeth you have!
So what kind of bite does Red Riding Hood have? I’m afraid not very big. It is not in the least bit scary. Nor is there any gore. That’s o.k. if it instead offers suspense (think Halloween), but it doesn’t really do that, either. This is odd because it does a pretty good job of providing red herrings for who the werewolf may be, many of which could provide a satisfactory revelation. But the execution is heavy-handed with too many reminders that everyone in town has big, brown eyes and could therefore be the big bad wolf.
Surprisingly, of the mishmash of thematic elements present, it is the love story that works best. The characters are initially richer and better-developed than those in Twilight; there’s a historical reason that Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) loves Peter (Shiloh Fernandez); therefore, we share her pain over the forced arrangement between her and Henry (Max Irons). And all three are such beautiful people, especially Seyfried with lips matching the color of her red hood, that I kind of wanted them all to run away together. Kinky, huh? (And that’s something the movie could use.)
One final note is that Red Riding Hood offers virtually no humor. After a dull opening, I expected some laughs to accompany Oldman’s arrival; however, with his regular scenery-chewing at a minimum, there were none. I guess with no scares, you don’t need the release that a good laugh provides in a typical horror movie.
So where do we stand with Red Riding Hood? Since expectations were confused, they weren’t exactly met, but neither were they not. We’ve got three distinct elements which, although compatible, don’t exactly equal more than the sum of the individual parts. However, one of those parts was surprisingly sweet. I realize that last sentence is probably not something you want to read on a website called Downright Creepy, but I wouldn’t want to mislead you. It’s that point that brings Red Riding Hood slightly above average. As a movie. But not necessarily as a horror movie.