As I’ve expressed a couple of times here, I had high hopes for Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood. Bad reviews and warnings from a friend daunted me a bit, but I needed some amiable fluff, so a girlfriend and I manned up, bought tickets, and snuck a bunch of rum and candy into the theater. And I have to tell you: Red Riding Hood may be the worst movie I’ve seen in theaters in several years, and I have seen Clash of the Titans and Twilight: Eclipse in theaters. Spoilers below the jump for those who care about the identity of werewolves and various and sundry other sillinesses.
One thing I’ll give Red Riding Hood credit for is having trailers that are artful as all hell. Remember that venomous ”you’re going to get what you deserve” warning that I called out as indication that our heroine might be a tad more interesting than her pretty, bland exterior suggests? That line’s spoken to her, not by her in the movie at a moment when she’s accused of being a witch. The trailer also makes the movie look visually richer than it is. It’s actually a slightly-elevated ripoff of a SyFy creature feature: the village is made out of Lincoln Logs, the outfits stolen from a moderate-quality Renaissance Faire. The dialogue is risibly stilted, and delivered with only moderate skill by a group of generally strong actors who are almost unable to contain their dismay.
But really, the worst part of Red Riding Hood is the story. There are almost infinite ways to make an interesting decision about the identity of a werewolf who is menacing a village. It could be, as I’d so hoped, Red Riding Hood herself. It could be her mother, stuck in poverty because of her marriage to a local woodcutter, who she grew to love but didn’t love at first. It could be her witchy grandmother, who lives in isolation from the community at larger. It could be the (comparatively) wealthy boy Red is set to marry, revealing a monstrous interior below his polished exterior. It would be the poor but young man Red actually loves, and in choosing him anyway, she could be choosing sexual and personal freedom. It could be the priest who comes to the village with the ostensible goal of ridding it from the werewolf, a savage commentary on religion and profit-seeking in the priesthood.
The wolf, of course, is none of these reasonably interesting options. It turns out to be her father who is a werewolf, and who wants to take her away from the monotony of the village, and turn her into a wolf like him. This might have been a powerful course if we saw any sort of rapport between father and daughter, if the two actors had any of the pop of Nic Cage and Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass. Instead, Billy Burke is sort of a dud: he plays Amanda Seyfried’s father as a village drunk, a man without the ambition to match the savagery he shows as the wolf. I get some of his rage at being cuckolded, which turns out to be a significant plot point, but he doesn’t really have any chemistry with Virginia Madsen (whose post-Sideways career, may I say, has been deeply disappointing) as his wife, either, so it’s hard to feel the impact of that rage. It’s the most boring possible choice, circumventing any interesting exploration of feminist rage or sexual awakening, and it’s executed in a way that’s totally leaden.
I honestly don’t understand how Hardwicke, who shows signs of being a reasonably interesting, intelligent director, ended up making a movie this sloppy and stupid. It’s a great story, with great potential. You have to make an effort to turn out something this dreadful.