Thursday, March 24, 2011

Village of the Damned: RED RIDING HOOD

If I were to pick just one fairy tale ripe for reinvention in the Twilight mode, it would have to be Red Riding Hood. Werewolves carry with them the mythic trembling of the monstrous hidden within the confines of a normal human. Any story of a secret shape-shifter can easily be adapted into a enthralling metaphor for desire, which has definitely happened in the past with, say, Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 horror benchmark Cat People. But that’s certainly not the case with Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood, which is interested in exactly none of its potentially potent subtext.

In fact this is a movie that is inexplicably unbearable and surprisingly claustrophobic, especially given how often the camera pulls back to find wide vistas. It’s set in an isolated, vaguely European medieval village that has been menaced by a werewolf for years, much to the dismay of its residents, who seem so much like modern actors stomping around as if they’ve just recently wandered in out of a nearby Renaissance Faire. The village itself appears to be a cheapo backlot set with a thin covering of fake snow. An early scene features the menfolk traipsing off into the forest to hunt the beast and so they go scuffing through the wintry landscape with not a single coat amongst them. There goes believability. As if to compensate for the set’s shortcomings, Mandy Walker’s cinematography is visually garish, nothing but soft focus and blurry colors. The better to confuse us with, my dear.

Little red riding hood herself is the gorgeously talented Amanda Seyfried (what big eyes she has) who is only given the chance to tremble a bit. She’s painfully adrift here in screenwriter David Johnson’s stagnant stew of a plot that simply marks time with an uninvolving love triangle between two dull, hot, carefully coiffed, young guys (Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons). There’s also some sort of inelegantly explained background involving her family which mainly consists of giving truly great actresses Julie Christie and Virginia Madsen absolutely thankless roles.

And just when I had gotten used to the fact that the movie was going to completely waste the skills of three (count ‘em, three!) immensely talented ladies, in rides some small interest in the form of werewolf-hunter Gary Oldman with an entourage of Moorish bodyguards who are pulling a giant metal elephant. How could that go wrong? Let me count the ways. Here’s a movie that is so completely terrible in every way it can’t even make good old-fashioned scenery chewing from such an expert chewer as Gary Oldman even partially enjoyable for more than half a scene.

Of course, the idea of a movie aquiver with sexual tension and secret werewolf intrigue, all taking place within the confines of an uncomfortable small village should have potential to spare. I could see myself enjoying a campy supernatural horror siege Western acted out by a ridiculously capable cast. What I can’t figure out is why Hardwicke (who has yet to make a movie I like) so thoroughly and completely allows every last ounce of this potential to get away from her. Sure, the script is terrible, but her every directorial decision is so misguided and off-putting that I have a hard time believing that this movie was directed at all. It seems to have stumbled off of the backlot onto the screen. It gave me a headache just to keep up with all I that was hating.

For those who are still in a Red Riding Hood kind of mood, I highly recommend listening to this great 1966 song, “Li’l Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, which is infinitely better than the movie in question.


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