Dealing with her frowned-upon love for woodcutter Peter (Fernandez), Valerie (Seyfried) also has to contend with a wolf stalking her medieval village home, paranoia spreading as hunter Father Solomon (Oldman) announces that it’s actually a werewolf, who might be one of the villagers...
Tim Burton – for thanks to his billion-dollar hit Alice In Wonderland, now every old morality play and legend is being brushed off and given an update in the hope of earning similar box-office success. And while there’s blame being tossed around, try Twilight, which is an undeniable influence here, with the connective tissue strengthened by the fact that director Catherine Hardwicke launched the vampire film franchise.
Still, Hardwicke deserves some credit for not pumping out a carbon copy of her earlier effort: working from David Leslie Johnson’s script, which utilises the original, pre-Grimm Brothers folk tales, she’s crafted a Red Riding Hood set in a fantastical medieval landscape where traditions hold strong and there’s danger lurking in the woods. With her keen visual eye and flair for the dramatic, she’s conjured up a compelling world for Amanda Seyfried’s headstrong Valerie to inhabit. By turns impish, flirty, scared and strong, she’s a great heroine, and Seyfried’s performance is bewitching. Trouble is, there’s very little that matches up to her passion. A love triangle between Valerie, Shiloh Fernandez’s workman and Max Irons’ wealthier, more “suitable” Henry fizzles more than it sparks, especially since Fernandez is more cookie-cutter than woodcutter and Irons is never all that much competition for Seyfried’s affections. Thank goodness, then, for Julie Christie’s grandmother figure, who brings some mystique to the proceedings.
And, as the tension rises and Oldman arrives to whip up a literal witch-hunt around the village, the story suddenly becomes more interesting again. Friends turn on friends; family members begin to suspect each other and Gary Oldman stalks the screen like a cross between Jack Straw and a Eurotrash Van Helsing. The message about swapping freedoms for security is hardly subtle, but it’s more interesting than the tepid romantic element. The guessing game of where-wolf is also more fun than the actual creature itself, which really should’ve stayed in the shadows after such a long, dramatic build-up. Brief flashes of the creature attacking are effective, but later extended shots show a purely pixel-powered lycanthrope that would make Rick Baker shake his ponytail in disgust.
Oldman and Seyfried prove to be the big attractions, but Hardwicke’s Riding Hood legend still lacks bite.