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Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood

There's not much decent stuff here, but she does have a hood

dir: Catherine Hardwicke

So, chicks dig this stuff, huh? Tame mixtures of the supernatural and the melodramatic, and the direct competition of two hunky lunkheads wanting to kill each other over you, and that’s the ticket for fiddly remembrances in the bath?

Surely women have higher standards than that? Surely it takes more to satisfy them than that?

I’m going to quote famous dead film critic Pauline Kael for a second, but not in a filmic capacity. She once expressed surprise and shock that Nixon won re-election, because she didn’t know a single person who voted for him. Of course, this quote has been used more to show how self-selecting her circle of acquaintances was, rather than the validity of her knowing what a likely political outcome would be.

In that spirit of same insular cluelessness, I don’t know a single girl or woman who likes this kind of supernatural – romantic bullshit, whether it’s explicitly Twilight or not, or ersatz Twilight like this movie. Not a one. Sure, most of the women I’ve ever known are too intelligent for this bullshit, but can I really use them as my sample size for judging the population of women?

Surely not, since someone has to buy those mentally defective celeb magazines, and those products promising eternal youth, eternal desirability and bras more torture device than structural support. And it’s not me.

To capitalise on the perceived Twi market of Twi-teens and Twi-moms and Twi-handbaggers, they’ve recrafted the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale to allow for the insertion of both an anti-religious / fascist theme as well as having two doofuses with contemporary hairstyles to fight over our little lady who’s trembling on the cusp of womanhood.

It’s set at some medievally filthy time in some ill-defined place. Sure, the voice-over refers to the Black Forest, but there’s barely anything Germanic about any of the setup, and the names make it seem like it could be England or France or Germany. All we know is that they don’t have iPods or internets or deodorant.

And they’re still all turned on by the thought of burning some witches.

This particular village has a problem. A wolf problem. They leave out ‘tribute’ for this wolf, to whom they attribute intention and agency, and the wolf’s mostly left the people alone at least.

Especially Valerie (Amanda Seyfried). Everyone should leave her alone. Alone with the childhood love of her life, at least, thus far, being Peter (Shiloh Fernandez, who does all the brooding Edward bullshit), who is also the woodcutter required by the story.

She loves him, and he loves her, but she will be promised to another, because in a dirt-poor village, apparently blacksmiths can afford to look down their noses at woodcutters. Valerie’s watery eyes tear up at the very mention of her upcoming nuptuals to the blacksmith’s son, (Max Irons), but she’s glad that she has that particular swordfight between the two strapping young lads to distract her from the scurvy she probably has and the deaths mounting up around her due to an attack of wolvishness.

For, you see, this is no mere big bad wolf preying upon the innocent and sniffing around all the barely legal lasses’ asses. It appears to be a werewolf. Even better, the person who changes into this big, throbbing beast must be someone who already lives in the village.

So, almost inexplicably, it becomes a murder mystery, as the suspects are whittled down one-by-one. And yet, all the while, Valerie keeps looking for a place to lose her pesky maidenhead to her one true love, whoever it might be dependant on who’s in the scene with her at any given time.

Just like those monstrous Twilight flicks, whatever sexual themes and undercurrents you could read into the text explicitly are very tamely represented. So very tamely. It’s all longing looks this and straining fully clad bodices that. And the guys themselves, with their product-filled heads and their completely out-of-place manner and look, couldn’t be less sexually threatening or compelling.

The disturbing element comes from, as it should, Valerie’s interactions with the werewolf, which not only have a sexual undercurrent far more intriguing than any of the human relationships in the flick, at least until the end, but, considering the revelation of the werewolf’s identity, is so icky in its realisation that I really do wonder what the fuck they were thinking.

In a good way. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is a good flick. But I’m going to forgive it plenty because of a few elements. It is, most importantly, nowhere near as godawful as the Twilight flicks. Nowhere near, despite or maybe because of the fact that Catherine Hardwicke directed this flick and the first Twilight flick.

Twilight is a flick so terrible that the entire medium should have stopped from then on. No further flicks should ever have been made after that. I don’t just mean in that despicable series, but all films everywhere. Every director should have hung up their spurs, every caterer should have hung up their spatula, and every drug dealer to the stars should have hung up their Ziploc baggies.

Instead, inexplicably, films kept getting made. Catherine Hardwicke did seem to me almost to be taking the piss with the earlier flick, and I expected this to be just as terrible, if not worse. But it’s not. Instead of being actively excruciating in its worst moments, it’s just flat, and when it’s okay, it’s tolerable. It helps that, how can I say this kindly, um, Amanda Seyfried is nowhere near as terrible an actress as Kristen Stewart is in those diabolical flicks. And it helps that Robert Pattinson or that other perpetually shirtless moron aren’t in the flick either.

When I think of Amanda Seyfried’s acting, mostly all I can recall of her is these huge blue eyes that always seem to be on the verge of tears. Either that or she’s always crying. In her work on television, especially on the cable series Big Love, as the daughter of a polygamist Mormon patriarch, I thought she was going to die from dehydration from all the big fat tears that rolled out of those doll’s eyes of hers.

Here, she still cries a fair bit, but mostly she has something that is lacking from that earlier referred to franchise: she actually has agency, and definable qualities, and isn’t a blank passive slate intended for an audience of insecure females to project all their misguided fantasies onto.

How do I define this? Well, she does stuff, and she runs around, and she doesn’t wait to be saved, and she actually actively participates in the events going on around her. And there’s something enjoyable about that.

I haven’t even mentioned Gary Oldman yet. Gary fucking Oldman. He plays a lunatic priest who sniffs out heresy, kills witches like it’s going out of style, and has first hand experience with the wicked ways of the werewolf kind. He also has a squad of African and Asian warriors at his disposal, torture implements and other S&M gear, and two nails on one hand that seem like they’ve been dipped in molten silver. I wonder if they’ll play a role in the flick?

Oldman is completely off the show in this, killing people here and there beyond any requirement of the story. Part of me suspects he really just wanted to play the Van Helsing role like Anthony Hopkins played it in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, but another part of me wonders whether he was killing people on his own time, and they just happened to have cameras around. He’s completely over the top, and he unbalances the flick, but it hardly matters, because it’s heightened melodrama meshed with horror, meshed with coming of age, meshed with erotic lite-fantasy, and none of it really matters.

It would be hard to stuff up the image of Valerie in her red cape against the snow, and they use it plenty. It’s an image I like, and its vividness, contrasted with what the characters in the film call Valerie because of it (harlot, whore, witch, Quaker), is somewhat powerful. What it really represents, and why the strange grandmother really gives it to her, I’ll let you find out for yourselves, if you ever bother to spend any time on a flick that by all rights should be utterly written off.

Still, don’t be expecting anything other than high camp, middle artiness and low brow, ladies.

6 times it’s a pretty fucked up story if you think about it too much out of 10

“You were always too smart, too fast, too good. And now you’ll get what you deserve.” – jeez, jealousy much, ladies? – Red Riding Hood