Knowing that Catherine Hardwicke’s departure from the Twilight franchise was announced amidst a publicity tour for the first film due to budgetary and shooting schedule concerns, one has to wonder where all that extra time and money went when watching Red Riding Hood, her follow-up feature. The fairy tale, whose numerous versions have been penned by the likes of Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm, has traditionally been a dark story deeply rooted in feministic themes, but David Johnson’s screenplay opts for a more shallow approach, swapping sexual awakenings and the descent into womanhood with a one-sided love triangle. One needs to look no further than The Company Of Wolves to see this timeless work altered as a cinematic narrative, which is heads above Hardwicke’s desperate attempt to mine similar territory in the hopes of repeating her only undisputed box-office success.
“It” girl of the moment Amanda Seyfried stars as Valerie, a young girl who’s planning to run away with the love of her life, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), before her parents betroth her to the wealthy Henry (Max Irons). But before they can make their great escape in the middle of the night, Valerie’s older sister is killed by a werewolf which keeps the town of Daggorhorn in a permanent state of fear despite not having been seen for the last 20 years. Ignoring the warnings of Father Auguste (Lukas Haas), a few townsmen form an angry mob and head out into the surrounding forest to hunt the creature. Returning with a wolf head on a spike, the town begins a short-lived celebration that’s interrupted by the arrival of a famous werewolf hunter (Gary Oldman) and, eventually, the actual werewolf who tells Valerie that she can either run away with him/her, or watch as her village is destroyed.
Right from the start, it’s clear that the fable is being looked at through Twilight bottle glasses. Opening with some epic aerial master shots of the forest and Daggorhorn, cinematographer Mandy Walker seems to be mimicking Elliot Davis’ style – interestingly enough, this is the first film Davis has not shot for Hardwicke – and even goes as far as to use fast close-ups of the lovers’ faces as they stare each other down. Blue and grey hues drench every frame, and the somewhat dark, moody score by Brian Reitzell is constantly interrupted by these light, floaty romantic pieces that feel horrendously out of place.
It’s not even that the film is bad because it deviates from the source material; it’s bad because everything from the script to the direction feels manufactured. Aside from Tom Sanders’ production design and Don Macauley’s art direction, which work together to realize a fairy tale universe just the way I imagined it, there’s nothing particularly interesting or artistic about Red Riding Hood. Johnson’s screenplay references elements from the source material and other stories – such as filling a dead body with stones so it’ll sink and three men wearing pig masks – in a fun, playful way, but ultimately seems more concerned with using contrived romantic plot points and creating a million red herrings than capturing the whimsy of a timeless story. The cast tries their hardest to work with the material, though chemistry is almost non-existent between any of the leads. Oldman is the only one who looks like he’s having a good time, chewing the scenery as the tyrannical Solomon who assumes control of the town in order to find the creature and prove to himself that his wife, who was once a werewolf, didn’t die in vain.
It’s a sad state of affairs when you leave a project because you need more time and money, only to go off and make a carbon copy of the same film you just made, but Hardwicke did just that with Red Riding Hood. It’s infuriating that the film offers no food for thought, neglecting to explore any of the subtext that makes it interesting and worth discussing in the first place, leaving a hollow shell of a movie that is no more gothic than it is entertaining.