Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: Red Riding Hood

What came over me? Was it my weakness for dark fairy tales? Was it a case of cinematic masochism? Was it sheer boredom? Was it a need to sit in a theater for $1.99, no matter what? Was it my desire to see everything that comes out (eventually) to inform you, my faithful readers? I guess it was a mixture of all of these things that made me go see Red Riding Hood tonight. Just as I suspected, the Twilight fans, who scare even me, will dig it. What surprised me is that there was a little bit for this Twilight hater to enjoy too. This is not to say that it’s good, just not the abomination I was expecting.

This is a bit of a riff on the classic fairy tale, but it doesn’t follow the story in any way. Valerie lives in a village called Daggerthorne. My, how goth of you. Anyway, a werewolf raids the town every full moon, but he and the townspeople have a bit of a truce. They leave out some tasty livestock, the wolf doesn’t eat them. One night, though, the wolf huffs and puffs and gobbles Val’s big sister down. Awful timing, cause Val is stuck in the middle of a love triangle. She’s in love with a woodcutter named Peter, but finds herself in an arranged engagement to a blacksmith named Henry. Following an unsuccessful wolf hunt, Father Solomon, a werewolf/witch hunter, is called into town to ferret out the lupine among them. The wolf appears and tears up the town, but speaks to Val, asking her to skip town with him. Now Val must figure out who the wolf is. Could it be her drunk dad, her cheating mom, or dear old Grandma? Perhaps one of her Beaus? One of the priests? Will Val find her true love? Will I ever get a good fairy tale horror flick?

Where do I start? Visually, it’s a mixed bag. The village set is very good. It is small and we see the same sites again and again, using the cramped, isolated set well. That’s about all I can say good here. As usual. CGI kills it. Everything besides the village and some of the woods is computer generated. It’s not bad necessarily, but it’s obvious. The Company of Wolves pulled off the exact look you were going for in 1984 with just practical effects and built sets. You have no excuse. The wolf itself looked awful. Actually, in a couple of shots it looks ok, but then it moves. The trees in the forest have big wooden spikes on them. What? It looks idiotic. If you were just trying to convey that “the forest is deadly,” you failed. The spiked trees are just dumb. The score/soundtrack is horribly mismatched with the visuals. They’re going for a dreamlike fairy tale with the Twilight haze, set in a far off mythical land. Then, the clich├ęd electronic crap music starts. I kid you not, there’s a big romantic scene in the enchanted forest, and music you’d hear seeping out of a 13 year old Hot Topic kid’s bedroom is playing. It doesn’t mix well.

The Twilight formula is in full effect here. Virgin desperate to get it on with the mysterious, dangerous dude she’s fallen for? Check. Two men competing for a vapid waif and threatening each other? Check. In truth I’ve never seen all of Twilight, bits and pieces are all I could endure, but from what I’ve seen, it’s just more of the same. That’s not shocking at all, considering the director of this flick directed the first sparkly pseudo-vampire kiddie show. There’s actually a pretty decent story trying to push its way through all of the heavy breathing angsty teen romance though. What works is the whole wolf storyline. It’s basically the tried and true Ten Little Indians setup. The village is locked, one of us is the werewolf, and we’ve got to figure it out. I was actually kept guessing for a while. That whole aspect of the story was done well, it was just choked out by the soap opera. It’s almost enough to keep a romant-o-phobic like me interested, if you can get past the young adult romance novel going on. An example: the town is celebrating because some of them believe the wolf to be dead. Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows the wolf is going to crash the party. We have to wait for that, however, while our young lovers have a dance off. Yes, a dance off. 'Nuff said. The dialog, by the way, is mind numbingly inane. A movie like this was screaming for some Shakespearean touches, or at least a little old world style. Not here. The dialog is clumsy, uninspired, and downright generic.

Then there’s the acting. Oh man, the acting. There are three “good” actors, so we’ll start with them. Gary Oldman was pretty good. Nothing earth shattering, and we’ve seen this character many times before in other witch-hunt movies, but he’s fun. Virginia Madsen, as always, is good. She does the best she can with the small, one note character she was given. Julie Christy was good as Grandma. This is not to say that these three, who have been great elsewhere, are great here. The presence of these three didn't elevate the movie so much as the rest of the movie let them know they didn't have to try as hard. There was one “decent” actress in the flick. The very pretty Amanda Seyfried, our lead, is passable as Valerie, but she doesn’t bring the emotional depth the part should have had. She hits the right notes, but it’s just flat. In fact, that performance probably wouldn’t have seemed as good as it did had the rest of the cast not been so bad. The worst offenders were Peter and Henry. I won’t even give these guys the effort of looking up the actors names. Seriously, I have the imdb page open, but they aren’t even worth clicking on the tab for. The director, hazy visual style, and cheesy love triangle motif aren’t the only things this flick shares with Dawson’s Cree..I mean Twilight. Apparently these two guys went to the same acting school Jacob and Edward (again, not looking the actors up) did. Looking bored and constipated doesn’t count as emoting. These two guys are beyond bad school play level awful. They even have the same “it took three hours to make my hair look this messy” thing going. Honestly, there were some good chances for some emotional moments in this flick; our three young leads just weren’t capable of pulling them off. The rest of the cast is ok, and make the two irritating pretty boy “hunks” look bad, but that’s not saying a lot.

I wasn’t expecting much, and that’s what I got. I will say though, that it isn’t as bad as I feared it might be. There are a couple of good performances, and some really good ideas here. Make the juvenile love triangle a subplot instead of the main focus (or just play it out better) and rewrite the script and this could have been a decent little thriller. A severed hand is about all the gore you get, but that’s to be expected. One thing that bugs me about a lot of movies did rear its ugly head here. If you’re going to show a dead body with wounds, make the damn wounds look fatal. It drives me nuts when movies do that. Val’s sister is shown after the wolf got her, and she’s got some scratches that don’t even look like they’d need stitches! Either make fatal wounds at least look fatal, or just don’t show the body. It probably would have been more effective that way.

All in all, I know a lot of fangbangers that would really like this (I’m not naming names). Just between us guys, while it’s still out, if your girl wants to see it, take her. There are a few cool moments. It’s a date movie you may not like, but you won’t hate as much as some other stuff they could drag you to. My advice is to go for the preemptive strike with Red Riding Hood before she pulls out “we always go to YOUR movies.” It will be 100 times worse then. I took one for the team to bring you that info gentlemen. You’re welcome. Why Nathan, what big severed thumbs you have! The better to give you half of one up, my dear. Nathan says only check it out if you must.


cash said...

You should be ashamed of yourself!! I try to stay away from this PG girly horror atrociousness. Now get back in your hole and watch The Evil Dead 10 times and flog yourself repeatedly!!

SonOfCelluloid said...

Not the kind of stuff I normally watch either. Ever since I started the blog, though, I try to see everything that comes out so I can review it. I wait for the 1.99 theater usually though, so I'm a month or so behind. In a case like this though, I'm glad I don't pay full price. The next one I'm dreading is Priest. That movie is going to suck, but I try to see them all.

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