This largely terrible, occasionally funny attempt by Catherine Hardwicke to recalibrate her successful Twilight formula as a quasi-historical exercise falls prey to a bland and tacky approach to a familiar idea: explore the classic fairy tale through prisms of latter-day Freudian symbolism and more overt references to lycanthropy as a metaphor for animalistic sexuality and incest. Yes, it’s a bald-faced rip-off of Neil Jordan’s Angela Carter adaptation The Company of Wolves (1984), complete with reproducing the set-bound, theatrical environs of
Anyway, a beast has been haunting the woods around the town for decades, but one full moon, the first of a “blood moon” cycle where the lunar body is loaned a reddish tint by Mars, Valerie’s older sister is killed by the animal. Some of the villagers initially laugh off hints of supernatural malice and search for a real wolf, and they catch and kill one after it seems to have killed Lazar. Father Solomon (who else but Gary Oldman?), called in to search for a werewolf by the more credulous, and met now with scorn, warns of grave misfortune after explaining the tale – based on a “genuine”, commonly cited werewolf legend – of how his wife’s lycanthropy caused him to kill her and commence a life of hunting the scourge. What follows listlessly and bloodlessly – both in the metaphorical and for the most part the literal meaning – apes other, better films in depicting Solomon’s repressive, brutally cleansing regime and the real werewolf’s campaign of dread. Red Riding Hood attempts, somewhat desperately, to clearly sustain a link between contemporary teen life and the pseudo-historical setting so that its presumed audience of Twilight fans will clearly, like, totally see themselves in it. These aspirations are clear in scenes like that in which Valerie is condemned by her friends after Solomon brands her as a witch, in a fashion that actually comes across as Easy A-lite. This comes after a hilariously silly scene in which she and her BFF Roxanne (Shauna Kain) dance with Sapphic overtones so that she can make Peter jealous, as if they’re at a High School social circa 2007, amidst a diabolically-flavoured village hoedown that could perhaps represent the most pure interlude of camp in recent
The mid-section does sustain something like dramatic tension in spite of this hilarity, and partly because of it. The depiction of a reign of reactionary terror brought about by the overzealous Solomon, played by Oldman in a turn reminiscent of his uneven hamming in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), is overdrawn and caricatured, but works sufficiently on a melodramatic level. Julie Christie turns in another of her curiously negligible emeritus performances as Valerie’s grandmother, sniffing out potential werewolves and offsetting Suzette’s pseudo-bourgeois frustration with righteous wisdom for her granddaughter, whilst Hardwicke, furiously proffering red herrings, also tries to keep Grandma as another suspect werewolf. This pays off in another camp gem when she and Seyfried enact an inevitable variation on the “oh, what big teeth you have grandma” scene which might recall to the filthy-minded a G-rated edition of Seyfried’s cougar-seducing antics in Chloe (2010). Billy Burke, so believable as Bella Swan’s flaccid blue-collar father in Twilight for Hardwicke, here again plays a paterfamilias but a rather more wicked one as Valerie’s father Cesaire, revealed in an unsurprising surprise twist to be the werewolf. His desire to pass on his taint to his daughter and run away with her imbues the material with a conscious suggestion of incestuous intent and thus a darker contemporary resonance. But like everything else in the film it’s limply fulfilled as Hardwicke mimics Tim Burton’s infinitely superior Sleepy Hollow (1999) in supernatural shenanigans pertaining to the sanctity of a church, and Solomon comes a cropper by his own puritanical petard. The finale seeks to have its cake and eat it as far as teenybopper longings go in regards to balancing oh-save-me-my-hero fantasies and modern empowerment pizzazz, as Peter, as per the rescuer woodcutter of revisionist versions of the fairy tale, arrives to save Valeria from Cesaire’s predations, and she gives an extra coup-de-grace by stabbing her papa with Solomon’s silver false fingernails, a final touch of dizzying silliness. But Peter is tainted now with the curse and goes off to await the next blood moon when he and Valerie can finally get down to some hot lovin’, doggy-style. By the time the film does actually finish you’ll be begging for a silver bullet to end its misery.