Greenlighting this updated Red Riding Hood must have seemed like a no-brainer; combine the current trend for modern gothic – angst-ridden vampires and emotionally conflicted werewolves – with the familiar set up of an ever-green fairy tale, a beautiful cast and the director of the teen behemoth Twilight and you’ve got a sure fire winner, right? But, as so often happens, it seems that so much stock has been placed in replicating a seemingly winning formula that no care was taken to ensure that the resulting film had any emotional heart, or even a cohesive narrative.
The story is, of course, familiar – even if the sexually charged nature of its telling may not be. Set at an undetermined time in an undetermined country, in a woodland village that looks like it belongs in a Hollywood theme park, its heroine is the beautiful, flaxen-haired Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) who is desperately in love with the rugged Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) but has – to the palpable angst of all concerned – been betrothed to the aristocratic Henry (Max Irons). And if this love triangle, wasn’t traumatic enough, the villagers are under attack from a vicious werewolf – and Valerie’s sister is its latest victim. When legendary werewolf hunter Father Solomon (a scenery chomping Gary Oldman) rides into town, things soon descend into total chaos… but when the real identity of the wolf is revealed, things will never be the same again.
During the awkward, stilted on-stage cast interview that took place before this special screening, Seyfried and her co-stars all explained that they were attracted to the project because of the thrill of reinventing such a classic story in such a clever and unexpected way. If this isn’t just PR fluff, then something has definitely been lost in translation from script to screen; Red Riding Hood is about as mind-numbingly formulaic and obvious as a film can get. But more than that, it’s a complete missed opportunity; the Grimm brothers classic tale has so much potential to be reworked for modern times, so much capacity for genuine spine-tingingling thrills. But David Johnson’s second feature screenplay (after the far better Orphan) bludgeons any nuance or subtlety with cliched dialogue, one-dimensional characters and a dull, listless tone that veers wildly between ye olde worlde (Valerie’s cloak is labelled a ‘harlot’s robe’, and she is subjected to a literal witch hunt) and modern day (various exclamations of ‘omigod’ and some bizarre dirty dancing at a village party) that sucks the life – and the credibility – out of even the normally reliable members of the cast.
And if this wasn’t all bad enough, everyone involved takes the whole thing so damn seriously that it just compounds the problems. The fact that Father Solomon locks all those he suspects of being the werewolf in a giant elephant; that the victims of the werewolf look as though they have suffered no more than a papercut and that the beast itself looks like it was made out of some sticky back plastic and a couple of old cushions – had they been played with a bit of tongue in cheek fun, they could have given the films some moments of comedy. But no one seems to realize just what a pantomime they are in, and their stony faced performances means the audience is forced to try and take it seriously. Which is impossible.
Simply put, this is Twilight with even less bite, a dismal attempt at updating a classic fairy story and a film that wastes everything that could have made it good. And with a slew of fairy tales heading for cinemas over the coming months, the best we can hope for is that it’s not an omen of things to come.
UK Release Date: April 15, 2011