Have I mentioned that I rent movies just to mock them sometimes?
Yeah, Red Riding Hood was bad.
Little Red Riding Hood—aka Valerie (Amanda Seyfried)—has been promised to wealthy Henry (Max Irons) but is actually in love with her childhood pal, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). This would be difficult at the best of times, but there’s also a werewolf attacking Valerie’s village, and for some reason, she seems to have a magical connection to the beast. DUN DUN DUN!
1. There are some decently talented actors in this cast. Gary Oldman, for instance, is in this movie. Julie Christie is in this movie. Amanda Seyfried, Billy Burke, Lukas Haas, Virginia Madsen, Michael Hogan, Michael Shanks . . . this is the cast of Red Riding Hood. There are Oscar winners and nominees in this film . . .
2. . . . and it has some of the flattest acting I’ve ever seen. The script is fairly horrible, and I can only assume that everybody was reading their lines while daydreaming about ways they could kill themselves. Perhaps they thought they were already dead and were stuck in some particularly depressing ring of Hell? Yes. This is how I choose to account for the fact that these actors who can fucking act deliver almost every line in Red Riding Hood with about as much emotion as I’d use while reading a thesis paper on Boolean algebra. (Side note: I have no idea what Boolean algebra is. I just wikied branches of advanced mathematics and picked the first horrible sounding thing I could find.)
3. We don’t exactly know where or when Red Riding Hood takes place, but one presumes it’s supposed to be set somewhere in Europe during medieval-ish times. I bring this up because no one in this film sounds like they come from medieval-ish times. The disconnect between the time period and the speech is jarring—it’s like listening to the elders in The Village all over again.
4. Red Riding Hood is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who directed Twilight. This will not surprise anyone who’s seen both movies, as they’re both adolescent paranormal romances starring dull leads who have shitty chemistry. What may surprise you, however, is that Twilight is easily the superior film. At least Twilight had a few good things going for it. The supporting cast was good. There were moments of genuine humor. They had a vampire baseball scene set to Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole.”
Red Riding Hood? It had, uh, a tiny bit of potential. Just a tiny bit, mind, and while I’ll detail it in the Spoiler Section . . . yeah, there really isn’t much to write home about here.
5. Except Gary Oldman’s Purple Robe of Destiny, of course. Can’t forget that.
If you’re going to be an expert werewolf hunter, you better damn well bust out the purple velvet. I know I do.
6. For those of you who were wondering, here is Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word ‘werewolf’:
werewolf: a person transformed into a wolf or capable of assuming a wolf’s form
Admittedly, these villagers probably don’t have a handy dictionary lying around, so who knows how they settle Scrabble disputes, but my point is this: the characters in this movie? They know they have a werewolf problem. They repeatedly refer to the creature as a werewolf, and they’ve been dealing with said werewolf for decades now. While normal people like you or me might think it’s high time to get a fucking move on, these villagers decide to keep on living here, and . . . fine. My issue is not their lack of sanity and foresight. It is, rather, a question of intelligence.
Early in the film, a band of men goes out and decapitates their supposed werewolf, putting poor wolfie’s head on a stick and marching it around the village. When Badass-In-Purple Gary Oldman shows up, they’re shocked, shocked I say, when he tells them that their trophy merely comes from an ordinary wolf. They don’t believe Oldman when he says that the werewolf lives in their village because they don’t believe that werewolves can change shape from human to animal.
. . . uh . . .
My mind is boggled, just boggled. It’d be like the villagers finding people dead with two fang marks in their necks, blaming the deaths on an errant vampire, and then contemptuously bitchslapping Van Helsing for telling them that vampires are undead creatures who suck blood and are not actually, say, giant bats or something. I mean, it’s the very definition of the term, you ASSHATS. What exactly did you think the were part of werewolf meant, anyway? Did you think it meant shitty CGI? You thought it meant shitty CGI, didn’t you?
7. See, it’s almost a time-honored tradition for werewolf movies to feature werewolves who look terrible, but the ones in this movie are especially fake-looking.
I’m just going to assume that Hardwicke hired the same stellar special effects team that the later Twilight movies use because they seem identically atrocious.
8. Red Riding Hood likes to try and work aspects of its origin story into the film, and man, are they ham-fisted. One scene works for me, one. I can tell you right now, it’s not the ‘Grandma, what big eyes you have’ scene. Ugh.
9. It’s hard to be a stickler about historical accuracy if the movie doesn’t give an actual date it’s supposed to take place, but this little witch-burning, good Christian village is surprisingly tolerant of the almost orgiastic celebrations that go on, celebrations where people dance around in animal masks and costumes, girl-on-girl sexy dances occur, and drunk men hump other drunk (and thoroughly passed out) men in the street while saying things like, “I’ll blow your house down!”
I’m just saying. I think this village is having a serious identity crisis.
10. The soundtrack for Red Riding Hood is pretty but somewhat irritatingly obtrusive. Particularly in the scene I was just talking about—they use a song called “The Wolf” by Fever Ray, and while I really like the music, it seems out of place in the rest of the film. If you’re going to use modern songs in your medieval-ish film, maybe the whole soundtrack should just be consistently anachronistic. Like, A Knight’s Tale, for example. Who doesn’t like David Bowie and Queen in A Knight’s Tale?
11. Speaking of consistency: a cape should not change lengths from normal cape length to spanning-whole-meadows cape length. I know that some of these shots are all artistic and dreamy and clearly not supposed to be literal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also completely dumb.
12. Finally, before Spoilers, this film is yet another movie with a really, really bad voiceover. So.
Lesson #2 on How to Properly Give A Voiceover: consider using what’s sometimes referred to as inflection. Unless you’re trying to deliver a zombie voiceover, it’s best not to sound like you’re already dead.
Just food for thought.
Okay, so the movie begins with young Valerie and young Peter frolicking around in the woods together, playing games, chasing each other around, and killing innocent bunnies, as childhood sweethearts are wont to do. Actually, we don’t see who kills the bunny yet, but you’ll see when we do find out that it’s thoroughly unimportant. This could be a nice scene to set up a relationship where, say, one friend is more brutal or practical than the other, or where one friend does the job that another friend can’t do . . . but no, here’s it’s mostly just a pointless introductory scene. Red Riding Hood doesn’t really bother developing complex human relationships.
So anyway, years pass, and Val’s mother, Suzette (Virginia Madsen), has promised her daughter’s hand to Henry, a wealthy young lad. (Henry also happens to be the son of the dude that Suzette loved years ago before she was married off herself. That will be important later.)
Suzette’s actual motivations are a little unclear—Suzette says Henry will make Val happier than Peter ever could; Val says Suzette is pretty much just selling her for money—but none of that’s really important because Val has no intention of going through with the arrangement. She and Peter are about to run away together when the werewolf strikes, killing Val’s older sister, Lucie.
I suppose, to Amanda Seyfried’s credit, Val does seem upset about this for approximately five seconds when she sees Lucie’s body, but after that . . . not so much. There is a stunning lack of reaction to almost every horrible thing that happens in this movie. Nobody grieves the way you think they should. Suzette doesn’t seem too terribly troubled by her daughter’s murder. Val’s father, Cesaire (Billy Burke), seems a little despondent for about half a second before shrugging it off. Everyone says they’re sad, of course, but no one really bothers to actually emote. Perhaps this is because the village is clearly made up of a bunch of vindictive bitches? You should see how these women talk as they’re gathered around Lucie’s dead body. Don’t get me wrong, I think most women have a natural aptitude for cattiness, but the sheer lack of empathy here is malicious and almost bizarrely surreal. Who the hell are these people, anyway?
There’s a werewolf hunting expert on his way to the village (Solomon, played by Gary Oldman) but the men start drinking and predictably get all riled up and decide to go hunt for this werewolf once and for all. Henry tries using his brain and suggesting they wait for the actual pro to arrive. In response, Henry’s Dad (Michael Shanks) tells him to find his courage. No one is surprised when Shanks is the next to be eaten.
The villagers kill and decapitate some perfectly normal wolf (poor wolf) and have a giant celebration, despite the fact the Solomon arrives and tells them that they’re a bunch of giant morons. During this time, Peter starts dancing with some floozie since he’s decided that he’s not good enough for Val, and Val tries to make him jealous by sexy dancing with one of her girlfriends. They later end up making out in the hay and on their way to doing a whole lot more when Henry sees them, of course. And as fascinating as I find badly written teen love triangles, it is perhaps fortunate that the massive CGI werewolf bounds in and breaks up the village’s festivities.
The werewolf sets to work killing people left and right, and we’re told he must come from a very old bloodline to be so powerful. This is important, so keep that in mind, even though it’s pretty much the only time until they end that they even bother to address the issue.
The werewolf only stops eating people long enough to have a little up close and personal chat with Val. Yes, I said chat. The werewolf can talk. Well, sort of. He’s actually growling, but Val can understand what he’s saying even though her terrified friend, Roxanne, can’t. Werewolf’s all, “Run away with me.” Val’s all, “Yeah, no.” Werewolf insists they have a connection because they’re both killers. (Guess who really killed that rabbit, all those years ago?) Val’s like, “Yeah, still no.” Eventually, Werewolf bounds away before he can be killed. In the meantime, I can’t believe that whole rabbit storyline was just to set up the idea the fact that Val is a killer too. That’s so unnecessary and lame. They don’t even bother to bring it up again!
Val, showing a surprising amount of intelligence and practicality, decides not to tell anyone that she can communicate with the werewolf, particularly not Solomon, who she suspects will react badly. She’s not wrong. Roxanne promises not to tell, either. That lasts about as long as you would expect it to.
Solomon, in the meantime, is turning out to be quite the crazy little shit. His own wife was a werewolf, you see, and he had to kill her, so he has absolutely no compunction about killing anybody else who’s been bitten. He travels with a bunch of dudes that seem to be part soldier, part bodyguard, and part servant. When one of them is bitten, Solomon kills him without hesitating, even though his brother (also a soldier/servant/bodyguard) begs him not to. Also, I should mention that there’s a blood moon going on right now, and according to some exceptionally silly exposition, a bite during a blood moon is the only time a werewolf can turn a human. That’ll be important later, too.
Solomon and Val use very different methods to try and determine who the werewolf is. Val seems to spend half the movie peering into people’s eyes, since the werewolf had brown eyes that she’s literally trying to match to a human face. Unfortunately for her, every single person in this village other than Val apparently has brown eyes, so it’s not going well.
Solomon, on the other hand, goes with a slightly more active approach. He targets Roxanne’s brother, Claude, as the focal point of his witch/were hunt. Claude’s been playing with tarot cards, see, so Solomon decides that he’s a witch or he knows witches and therefore must also know the werewolf’s true identity. The fact that Claude also clearly has some kind of mental disability makes no never mind to Solomon. When the kid can’t tell Solomon who the werewolf is, the soldiers throw him into a brazen elephant, which is just like a brazen bull, but you know, elephant-shaped instead. It’s funny. A month ago, I’d never even heard of one of these before. Then I saw them demonstrate how it worked in 1,000 Ways to Die. Then I saw it here. And then I saw it in Immortals yesterday. Weird little coinkydink.
Roxanne tries to barter for her brother’s life, first with riches, then with her body, and finally with the information about Val’s rather special linguistic abilities. Solomon gives Claude back, or what’s left of him. He’s really not a very nice man.
Father Auguste (Lukas Haas) is beginning to figure that out himself. He’s been a very strange character this whole time, not really connected to anyone else and having very little to do but follow Solomon around like a puppy. When he sees what Solomon’s men have done to Claude, Father Auguste is fairly horrified. I bring this up because Lukas Haas might be the only actor in this whole movie who really sells me on the fact that he can produce a seemingly genuine expression. That one look of horror is worth more than all of Val’s family’s supposed grief combined. It’s unfortunate, then, that Haas is playing such a random and arbitrary character. He could easily have been written out of the movie entirely and almost nothing would have changed. In fact, I even guessed he was the werewolf at one point, not because this actually made sense, but because my brain kept trying to force some kind of significance on him. I still can’t figure out what the hell his character was doing in this movie to begin with.
Anyway. Solomon condemns Val as a witch and ties her up as part sacrifice, part bait. He also gives her a special witch-mask to wear because . . . well, I don’t know, really. Clearly, he likes fashion to make a statement, though. He took majestic purple very, very seriously, you see.
Peter and Henry (and too a lesser extent, Cesaire) have to work together to rescue Valerie. Henry has broken off the engagement with Val, but he still cares about her, so it’s still awkward. And if you’ve noticed the fact that I’ve barely mentioned the acting by Shiloh Fernandez or Max Irons . . . well, that’s because there’s so little to tell. I don’t think either of them have much in the way of chemistry with Amanda Seyfried. Fernandez has a little more to work with, but neither of them really stand-out. But then again, who does, with this script? This movie doesn’t even allow Gary Oldman to do camp properly. Good Lord. That man has given some very eccentric performances in his career. I expected a lot more scenery-chewing awesomeness than I got, dammit.
Solomon tries to kill Peter or Henry—I can’t remember which—probably thinking that he’s the werewolf. Father Auguste stops him, saying the kid isn’t the werewolf, and for this generosity of spirit, Solomon murders Auguste. Bye, Lukas Haas. Nice seeing you again!
The real werewolf does finally show up, and Solomon gets his comeuppance for being an evil prick when the werewolf bites his whole hand off. Solomon tries to plead for his life, saying that he has children, but the guard guy who’s brother was killed just says that his brother had children too. Then the guard guy kills Solomon. I’m warming up to this guard guy. Not that he ever comes back, mind.
During the chaos, Peter is tossed into the brazen elephant himself (although no one thinks to light the fires underneath it, whoops). We later see he’s broken out of it. The movie’s been trying to make us think Peter is the werewolf for the last hour or so, and of course Valerie starts to suspect this too, but clearly this is not the case because that would be way too obvious. Val has a dream about her grandmother (Julie Christie) being the werewolf, and the exchange between them, you know, what big eyes you have, what big teeth you have, etc, is really quite painful. Val wakes up from the dream fearing her grandmother’s in danger. I guess Val doesn’t believe in literal dream interpretation.
Well, she’s right, at any rate. Sadly, Grandma’s already dead, killed by her own son, Cesaire.
For shame, Bella Swan’s daddy. For shame.
Turns out, Cesaire wanted to turn his daughters into werewolves during the blood moon, but he realized that Lucie wasn’t really his daughter when she couldn’t understand his wolf growls. (Apparently, that’s like a hereditary thing, something you’d think big bad werewolf expert Solomon, who knows everything there is to know about werewolves, would have put together, but oh well.) Enraged, Cesaire accidentally killed her. He was a little less accidental when he killed Henry’s daddy (as he was Lucie’s real daddy) and when he scratched the shit out of Suzette’s face.
Cesaire wants to turn Val into a werwolf, but Val’s still like, yeah, no thanks. Peter comes to the rescue, sorta, but mostly just gets knocked around for his trouble. Val, who has somewhat creepily stolen Solomon’s dismembered hand, stabs her father with Solomon’s two stupid, silver fingernails. Cesaire dies, and in the only not-groanworthy nod to the fairy tale, Peter slices Cesaire up the middle, fills his belly full of stones to weigh him down, and tosses his body into the lake. They can’t tell anyone that Cesaire was the werewolf, see, because then the villagers would kill Val for sure. Because they’re vindictive bitches.
And everything seems all good and happy but—oh noes! Peter has been bitten! He decides he needs to do an Oz and run away for a little while so he can learn to control his werewolf nature. (Like . . . okay? Is there a werwolf zen master living in Tibet or something that I’m not aware of? Have I missed some helpful bit of exposition to explain this exceptionally sudden decision?)
Peter leaves, and Val moves into her dead grandmother’s home in the woods, waiting for his return. While she’s waiting, she continues her shitty voiceover narration, telling us helpful things like Henry finally found his courage, which . . . yes, I’m still not entirely sure he’d ever lost it, to be honest. I feel a little bad for Henry. For one of the three people in a love triangle, he’s clearly not very important.
The movie finally ends with Peter returning to the woods. Well, I guess it could be any CGI werewolf running around, but it’s clearly supposed to be Peter. You don’t actually see them come together, though, so I’m personally hoping that the zen master plan failed, and that Peter ate her after the credits. Because while the idea of him returning for her could have been sort of romantic, Peter and Val really have zero chemistry, so it doesn’t work. Pretty much any relationship or idea that could have been interesting—like all the werewolf stuff, with each generation becoming stronger and stronger, or blood relatives being able to communicate when no one else can—all of that is lost to the terrible, terrible writing.
Lukas Haas. He managed to come up with an expression.
Catherine Hardwicke. I think she might have personally crushed each and every actor’s spirit.
Lycanthropy can’t stop true love? I’m not sure. It sure as hell ain’t whatever Charles Perrault was aiming for, anyway. Ooh, I know! All sorrows are lessened with bread! That includes when your sister is viciously mauled to death by a werewolf. Just eat a slice of toast. You’ll feel right as rain!