Friday, 17 June 2011

Film Review: Red Riding Hood

The tale of a young girl cloaked in red off to visit grandma has been told and retold throughout the ages, but it is the Brothers Grimm version which is the most well renowned. And it is this version of events which Catherine Hardwicke's latest incarnation most closely sticks to. Whilst it doesn't deviate from the central events of the story, Red Riding Hood certainly adds its own twist to proceedings - and not necessarily for the better.

Valerie (Seyfried) lives in the picturesque medieval village of Daggerhorn, a small enclave in a remote forest which is stalked by a wolf. In love with woodcutter Peter (Fernandez), Valerie plans to run away with him against her parents wishes, who have promised her to the son of the town's wealthy blacksmith, Henry (Irons). When the wolf kills Valerie's sister, Father Solomon (Oldman) and his crack team of werewolf hunters arrive and put the town on lockdown until the beast is dead.

Hardwicke, director of the Twilight films, borrows much from the saga and its influence permeates throughout Red Riding Hood. The similarities of insipid, floppy-haired beanpoles with sharp facial curvatures in Peter and Henry to Edward and Jacob are stark, as is the love triangle between the two and a young teenage girl still unsure of her place in the world. While this is Hardwicke's own personal stamp on the classic fairytale, it scarcely works as Iron's Henry never really proves much competition for Seyfried's affections. Consequently this story arc, which Hardwicke has tried to make just as important as the central plot about a werewolf terrorising a small village, flatlines.

Indeed, there's a lot 'off' in Red Riding Hood where nothing quite sits in this quaint village, supposedly sitting somewhere in medieval Europe. It is populated with American accents, Solomon's super-squad is comprised of, shall we say, men of a 'less-than-European-looking' appearance, and there's this sort of modern industrial-techno soundtrack to further detract from its setting. It's difficult what to make of it all. On the one hand Red Riding Hood is cinematically stunning, using visually striking images and colours highlighting the safety of the village, juxtaposed against the forbidding darkness of the forest it's surrounded by. On the other, the aforementioned curiosities just throw the atmosphere out of sync, merely begging criticisms of this being modern day claptrap.

And yet, you'll keep watching. Oldman's arrival stirs up a literal witch-hunt in the village, hooking its audience on the old 'who-is-it?' caper. Its less-than-subtle allusions to whether you'd give up freedom for security is at least a damn site more interesting than Hardwicke's Twilight-lite parallel plot line. However, when everything begins to come to a head you'll find all its menacing build up descends into a tepid crescendo.

Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood is more Twilight than Grimm, suited perhaps more to tweens suffering Twilight withdrawal symptoms. Its gorgeous setting is only skin deep, taking itself way too seriously in its taxing concern over which of Daggerhorn's two best looking boys Seyfried should choose. Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? Probably not you.