Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight)
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie
Another week, another children’s story reconfigured for hormonal youth. This one—“Little Red Hiding Hood”—comes from Catherine Hardwicke brought us Twilight in 2008, making her the godmother of hormonal horror. The value of such an accolade is dubious, but since Hardwicke shows little aptitude for filmmaking, it may be the best she can aspire to. I missed her much-praised indie Thirteen (2003), but presumably this made her the go-to director for teen angst—from skateboarders to the Virgin Mary to the mopey morbid to this newest troubled-teen tripe. In her favor this time, she lays off the jittery-cam till she opts to use it for eavesdropper-point-of view. In the film’s favor, the imagery sometimes looks like a Pre-Raphaelite painting—or more probably a vintage Hammer horror movie. That may be intentional. It’s also a lot funnier than Beastly, the recent teen-aimed revamp of “Beauty and the Beast.” That probably isn’t intentional.
Why anyone thought this was a good idea, I don’t know. Back in 1941 The Wolf Man noted that “Little Red Riding Hood” was a werewolf story, but the studio behind it wasn’t dumb enough to actually pursue the concept. Sixty years later, we’re apparently ready for it. Well, whether or not we were, we got it. But what exactly did we get? You won’t believe me, but I’ll tell you anyway.
First off, there’s no Red Riding Hood. Instead, there’s this nature child called Young Valerie (Megan Charpentier) who cavorts in the woods with Young Peter (Dj Greenburg). Together, they trap a bunny rabbit and may or may not cut the animal’s throat. We can’t tell because the film leaps forward 10 years at this point and Valerie has turned into Amanda Seyfried while Peter has turned into occasional TV actor Shiloh Fernandez. Even though Max is apparently the inventor of styling mousse, he is but an humble woodsman, and Valerie’s mother, Suzette (Virginia Madsen), is some kind of medieval social climber who wants her daughter to marry into money. In their little village—apparently made of Lincoln Logs with sharpened ends—this means marrying Henry (Max Irons, son of Jeremy), whose family must have a nicer hovel.
While Valerie tussles over which pseudo-hunky guy to marry, the village is dealing with the local werewolf, whom they usually placate with barnyard animals chained in the town square. But when the werewolf offs Valerie’s sister, the villagers get riled up and go hunt the beast in its lair, resulting in the death of Henry’s father and the slaying of a wolf. They apparently know bugger-all about werewolves, since they think their troubles are over. Enter professional werewolf hunter Father Ambrose (Gary Oldman)—complete with ethnically diverse henchman and a giant rolling metal elephant/heretic crockpot—who tries to explain werewolves to the cretinous villagers. They decide to hold a medieval rave—complete with a pantomime version of the yarn about the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf (I am not making this up)—and that, of course, brings on the real CGI Twilight-ized, Buick-sized werewolf and no shortage of mayhem.
It gets no better, but it does get dumber and dumber as it sinks further and further into a story that makes less and less sense as it tangles itself up in more and more inconsistent “folklore.” I can’t decide whether a werewolf that communes telepathically with Valerie is a worse idea than dressing Valerie up in some kind of cheesy armadillo mask (I guess it’s supposed to be a pig) to leave her for the werewolf. I do know both are pretty funny, but then so is Valerie’s awkward and literal roll in the hay with Peter, the “Little Red Riding Hood” dream sequence with Grandma (Julie Christie), and the amazingly bad acting. There’s no shortage of that last, though Seyfried probably takes the prize in a performance where her every emotion is conveyed by the extent to which her mouth hangs open. Even Oldman can’t do much with the material, though. His witch/werewolf hunter isn’t a patch on Vincent Price in Witchfinder General (1968) or Michael Gothard in The Devils (1971). But they didn’t get to say, “Lock him up—in the elephant!” Rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality.