Red Riding Hood has all the necessary components of a blockbuster romantic drama: lead actors oozing edgy, affected sexiness; a creepy village in the middle of nowhere surrounded by an equally-creepy snowy forest and cut off by jagged mountains; no fewer than three love triangles (one of which is incestuous); a mysterious old lady with lots of secrets; a can-we-or-can’t-we-trust-him vaguely pagan priest accompanied by some kind of multiethnic Medieval militia; an occult celebration scene/dance party/possible orgy; illicit sex; animal sacrifice; witch-hunting; werewolves; murder; torture; adultery…the list goes on.
But that’s is precisely what’s wrong with the film. Rather than focusing on doing a few things well, the movie bounces all over the place trying and half-exploring a theme for a scene and then discarding it for another theme in the next. Tying together this plot-device-surfing is Amanda Seyfried as heroine Valerie, a bright young woman with a wild side who finds herself torn between her true love Peter (smoldering hottie Shiloh Fernandez) and her fiancé by arrangement Henry (Max Irons, cute in that harmless-and-slightly-crosseyed-foil-character-way).
Just as Valerie is poised to make a decision between her two suitors, the big bad wolf shows up and, having subsisted on sacrificial goats for the past 20 years, kills a human. And then a lot more humans. A wolf hunt ensues. More people get wolfed. The village becomes aware that perhaps the beast they are dealing with is of a more metaphysical nature than they realized, and bring in the aforementioned military priest (an appropriately shameless Gary Oldman), who launches a full-scale operation aimed at capturing the wolf via the encouragement of Crucible-style fingerpointing among the villagers. (Does the boy with a mental disability get tortured? Were the Brothers Grimm German?) This ultimately brings us to the plot climax, which is as busy and schizophrenic as the rest of the movie.
In short, director Catherine Hardwicke would have done better to pick one or two themes to explore in depth: distrust and superstition, revenge (you know, for one of those love triangles), dark spirituality, anything. Instead, the film seems at best formulaic (there was more than one point at which I asked myself, whether I was watching Hardwicke’s previous magnum opus Twilight), and at worst lazy and senseless.
That said, Red Riding Hood is not boring. Though the storyline may be shallow and the dialogue weak, the action moves along at a speed that keeps the audience engaged. The premise of the movie, if there can be said to be one, is the village’s attempt to discover who among them is in fact the big bad wolf. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that the film so obviously suggests various characters as the potential villain that in recognizing and naturally rejecting this transparency you actually become completely confused as to whom it may be. In the end, you’ll be legitimately surprised, and the reveal scene is exciting.
I was pleased with the extremely straightforward dialogue (“The wolf is coming!” “I’m scared!”) and the fact that that screenwriter David Johnson did not insult our intelligence with faux Medieval yonder-lieth-the-wolf dialogue typical of this type of film (see The Village). Not every audience member was so pleased, though; when the credits began to roll the woman behind me stood up and loudly exclaimed, “The writing—blech!” Guess it depends on your expectations.
All in all, watching Red Riding Hood is more entertaining than…not watching Red Riding Hood. People who simply enjoy going to see a movie as a weekend activity will find it at least moderately entertaining. People who enjoy watching movies because they appreciate good acting and well-developed storylines had best stay away.