Feb 22, 2016
Red Riding Hood (2011): Who’s in lust with the Big Bad Wolf?
Do you feel a void in your life now that the Twilight movies are over? Or are you looking for one of your favorite childhood fairy tales to be turned into yet another teen-oriented supernatural romance? If so, Red Riding Hood might be just what you’re looking for. The film is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who was clearly hired because she also helmed the first Twilight, and stars Amanda Seyfried in the title role of Red Riding Hood, who’s obviously not so “little” in this retelling.
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For years, the village of Daggorhorn has lived in fear of a vicious werewolf. Every full moon, the villagers leave their prized livestock outside as offerings to the werewolf, in the hopes that the beast will spare them. For a long while, this unspoken agreement seems to work, until the occurrence of a bright red blood moon, when the werewolf once again becomes a threat.
We’re introduced to the main character Valerie (Seyfried), a teenage girl who’s fallen in love with her childhood friend Peter. However, Valerie’s mother (Virginia Madsen) goes out of her way to ensure Valerie is married off to the blacksmith’s son Henry instead. Valerie obviously doesn’t love Henry, so one day she and Peter make plans to run away together.
But just as they’re about to leave, the werewolf warning bell sounds, which means the wolf has attacked a human. They rush back to the village only to find out that the victim is Valerie’s sister Lucy.
As Valerie’s family prepares for a funeral, she learns that her sister was in love with Henry, but had to end things when Henry was forced into an engagement with Valerie. She wonders if her sister was so despondent over this breakup that she let the werewolf kill her. Henry’s super-creepy grandmother tells Valerie this is nonsense, as Henry has always loved only her, because “you’re the pretty one”. And if that’s not creepy enough for you, she actually says it with Lucy’s dead body in the room right beside her.
Later on, Valerie’s own grandmother makes a red cloak for her, so I guess at least the title will be mostly accurate. Though I’m not sure a bright scarlet hoodie is appropriate attire during a period of mourning.
Valerie remains confused about why her mother so badly wanted her to marry Henry. Eventually, Valerie’s mother confesses that Lucy and Henry couldn’t be together because they were secretly half-siblings. Many years ago, Valerie’s mom had an affair with Henry’s dad. Scandalous! But Valerie’s dad (Billy Burke, who also happens to have played Bella Swan’s dad) doesn’t know the truth, and she makes Valerie promise she’ll never tell.
Meanwhile, the town is in panic mode because the werewolf has broken their longstanding truce. Some of the men form a hunting party to have their revenge on the beast. The village’s priest (Lukas Haas) tries to stop them, because he’s called in Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a world-renowned werewolf hunter, but mob mentality has already taken hold. The next day, the men return with what they believe is the werewolf’s head on a stake; however, their success came with a price, as the werewolf also killed Henry’s father.
As the town prepares to celebrate the slaying of the werewolf, Father Solomon makes a dramatic entrance. And I do mean “dramatic”, as Oldman goes pretty far over the top here, and puts on a completely unidentifiable (British? Transylvanian?) accent for good measure. He tells the village an elaborate story about how he killed his first werewolf, who turned out to be his wife. He then looks at the wolf’s head on the stake and laughs at the townspeople for thinking they killed the werewolf. According to him, the werewolf is mostly likely one of the villagers, and is right here among them now.
Oddly, the townspeople don’t seem too perturbed, and they carry on with their festivities anyway. Though, what follows seems more akin to a pre-dawn rave than a celebration in olden times. Valerie spots her true love Peter dancing with another girl, so she decides to start suggestively dancing with one of her female friends. And all of this is set to anachronistic EDM as well. Now that Valerie and Peter are all good and worked up, they indiscreetly take off to have some alone time in the barn.
The party is interrupted when the werewolf attacks again. There’s utter chaos, and the werewolf (who looks exactly like the werewolves in the Twilight movies) chases after Valerie and one of her friends. Once cornered, the werewolf begins to speak telepathically to Valerie (in exactly the same way the werewolves “spoke” in the Twilight movies), telling her that she must come away with the wolf, or else it will destroy the village. Before she can be fully seduced, the beast is driven away by Father Solomon.
In the wake of the attack, Solomon becomes a domineering tyrant, torturing various villagers inside a sweatbox in the hopes that one of them will reveal the werewolf’s true identity. One of the people he tortures is a mentally challenged boy who can barely talk, much less give up a name. In exchange for his freedom, the boy’s sister offers to tell Father Solomon the name of a witch in the village.
During this, we get a close-up on Solomon’s silver fingernails, with an obvious overdub explaining that these fingernails are for killing werewolves. So I’m guessing this will be important later.
The whole town gathers for the naming of the witch, and naturally, the girl accuses Valerie. As proof, she points out how Valerie can, you know, talk to werewolves.
Valerie admits to this, so Father Solomon takes her captive, intending to sacrifice her to the wolf for the safety of the village. But Peter and Henry rescue her and pull her into a church, because apparently the werewolf can’t walk upon holy ground (so why not just turn every house in the village into a church?). But in the chaos, the werewolf rips off Father Solomon’s arm. Knowing that he too is now cursed to become a werewolf, Solomon’s own men kill him, much to no one’s dismay.
That night, Valerie has a dream about her grandmother, which is disturbing to her but highly amusing to us, as they go through the whole “grandmother, what big eyes/ears/teeth you have!” spiel from the fairy tale. This dream makes Valerie suspect her grandmother might be the werewolf, so she dons her red cloak and travels over the river and through the woods to visit her.
As Valerie gets close to her destination, Peter finds her, and then she starts to suspect he might be the werewolf instead, so she stabs him and runs off. She gets to the house, where her grandmother greets her from behind a curtain, but Valerie is startled when someone else walks out.
So yeah, spoilers follow, in case you care…
It turns out to be Valerie’s dad, who reveals he’s the werewolf. Apparently, all those invitations to run away with him weren’t creepy come-ons; he simply wants Valerie to become a werewolf just like him, so they can have some quality father-daughter werewolf bonding time and move to the city where they can find more prey. He explains how he killed Valerie’s sister in a fit of rage when he found out she wasn’t really his child, and then took his revenge on Henry’s father as well.
But then Peter shows up and stabs him in the back, and then Valerie reveals she also brought along Father Solomon’s severed arm, complete with his silver fingernails. She jabs her father with the silver fingernails and kills him.
The two teens are relieved for a moment, until they realize Peter was bitten during the fight, and is now destined to become a werewolf. Peter flees the village, vowing to return when he learns how to control his werewolf impulses.
Despite the death of the werewolf, the village returns to their habit of leaving out livestock every full moon and cowering inside their homes at night, because it’s the only life they’ve ever known. Valerie then moves into her grandmother’s house and waits for Peter to make his return.
There have been plenty of adaptations of the original fairy tale, some more “mature” than others, but I’m not sure if any were quite as annoying as this one. The movie is flat-out obsessed with tossing out red herrings to its central werewolf mystery. The final third act is pretty much nothing but uselessly pointing the finger at various suspects. Peter’s the wolf! No, Henry’s the wolf! No, Valerie’s mom is the wolf! Henry’s grandma! Valerie’s grandma! It gets tedious, as it seems there’s nothing else going on in the movie by the time it gets into the final stretch.
The film includes a voiceover narration from its lead character (yet another commonality with Twilight) that pops up sporadically, as if the director didn’t believe we could follow the story without it. But it’s mostly like listening to the diary of a high school girl who still reads Nancy Drew and complains about how she can’t get the cutest boy in class to ask her to the prom.
Hardwicke tries to rise above the bland teen romance genre with a few moments of bizarre camp, particularly in Valerie’s interactions with both creepy grandmothers. There’s another moment where Valerie is being used as bait for the wolf, and she’s forced to don a ridiculous iron wolf mask for no reason. As she sits there chained up, one of her friends shows up to deliver a hilariously venomous, spiteful speech about how everyone hates her and she deserves to be eaten by the werewolf, which comes out of nowhere and is never mentioned again. Unfortunately, all the film’s attempts to be cheesy, trashy fun never go anywhere, and it ultimately doesn’t stray far from the star-crossed lovers’ vibe that permeated the Twilight pentalogy.
I would say the most entertaining aspect of this film is the novelization released shortly before the movie. The producers were terrified it would spoil their killer plot twist, so the book was published without an ending. The last page instructs the reader to go to a website to read the last chapter, which presumably wasn’t made available until after the movie was released.
One would think there would be much, much better ways to handle this (why not come up with a different twist ending just for the book to really surprise people?), but mostly, it’s hard to believe they thought their target audience would care much about a story this lame being spoiled. And despite the secrecy, the movie failed to make much of an impression at the box office; maybe teenage girls only care about werewolves when sparkly emo vampires are also involved?
[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]