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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Red Riding Hood

Bella and Edward look on...

I grew up wanting this film. Not this film, strictly speaking, but what this film could have been. I've often said that the most important part of film criticism is to not judge what could have been, but what is, and simply that. I know that I was a fan of the fairy tale from a young age, even to this day. And I know that the film I always wanted to see what more The Ghost and the Darkness (a truly terrific and terrifying film) and less Twilight (which I enjoy, for what it's worth). But, what we got was Twilight and not The Ghost and the Darkness. 

What sets them apart is this - Red Riding Hood could have been a film about a wolf hunt, about the strength of family, and a feminist's wet dream. Red Riding Hood wound up being a film about a teenage love story between an outsider and the pretty girl, and a whodunit about a werewolf. Careful distinction - Little Red Riding Hood is almost exactly like the former, and Catherine Hardwicke's version is exactly like the latter. Remember that Catherine Hardwicke gave us the first Twilight. She almost ruined that, and she did ruin this. Beyond repair. 

More after the cut --
I feel like I need to make some full disclosure. In 2002, almost ten years ago now, I saw (twice) what I've since considered the worst movie I've ever seen. It's a film called Pumpkin - a sorority satire about a young pledge who falls in love with a mentally handicapped athlete competing in the local special Olympics. This is a film that tries hard to be something that it can not be (and that's the catch when judging a bad film). The glitch in that theory is this - it knows it's a satire, and it knows it's offensive. When it tries to circumvent those facts is where the film goes wrong. Having long called that the worst movie ever made, you can imagine my surprise sitting through Red Riding Hood, and watching a fervent belief of mine for the last nine years be shattered. 

Red Riding Hood is a film that takes itself as seriously as we must believe the fact that it exists. A young woman named Valerie (played with coyness and blank stares by Amanda Seyfried) lives in a village terrorized by a werewolf. How do they know it's a werewolf? We don't get that answer. Some villagers refer to it as just a wolf, but another gets the bright idea to call in a werewolf slayer named Father Solomon (played with ... zeal? by Gary Oldman and one of his many accents). Valerie is in love with an outsider poor kid named Peter but is pretty much sold into marriage by her parents to a boy named Harry. Father Solomon - being Father Solomon - tells the villagers that it is indeed a werewolf and that one of the villagers is the culprit. He's right, because the film's visual clues tells us that from the beginning. Otherwise, there is no evidence to anything that anyone anywhere has ever said about anything. Ever. Durp.

Another interesting fact about this film - witches aren't burned at the stake. There are no stakes. Witches are burned inside of Father Solomon's giant metal elephant that he is pulled into town on. A giant metal elephant. That he is pulled into town on. By other people. By Africans, as a matter of fact, so we have a clue as to when this film might take place. Around the time of slavery, probably in a country foreign to America. The opening establishing shots don't tell us this - we have to infer from the film's implied racism of the Van Helsing-esque character. Guessing these kinds of facts based on this kind of evidence seems to be the running gag in the film's production. We don't know when it takes place, or where it takes place, and no one in the town knows anything about stuff. Okay. Thanks, Catherine Hardwicke. 

I can imagine where this movie could have gone right, but I'm saddled with where this film went wrong. But, I will say this, as even Pumpkin had a couple of moments that didn't make my blood run dry - there are a couple of scenes worth noting a party scene has a great soundtrack choice, and Billy Burke's delivery is as good as it's ever been. BUT - that party scene makes Valerie out to be a dumb slut, and everything Billy Burke is saying is drenched with idiocy. 

This is a film for teenage girls, no doubt. But, the lessons taught here (or at least the character choices and implications) are dire and dangerous. I wouldn't let my daughter watch this without a serious discussion afterward. But, to be honest, I hope I will have instilled enough sense in my daughter to not seek out films as desperate for attention as this one for entertainment. I like to think I'll have the kind of kid who can sit back and re-read the Grimm fairy tale instead, and get just as much out of it. What will always amuse me the most out of this film, however, is that Valerie has a dream where she and Grandmother have the "better to eat/see/hear you with" conversation. But, the wolf hasn't had anything to do with Grandmother yet. It's like we're being reminded of the film's roots. 

The Grimms are rolling in their graves.