By Susan JAMES
“Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke takes another shape-shifting tale out for a spin in her new film, “Red Riding Hood.” The movie owes a large debt to Tim Burton’s 1999 classic “Sleepy Hollow,” all moody scenery, frightened villagers and scary supernatural beast. What it lacks is the star power of a Johnny Depp to really bring the story to life.
Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, the beautiful village maiden with an unsavory edge. As a child she would run away to the spooky forest and kill rabbits in cold blood. Her rebel ways are encouraged by childhood pal turned would-be lover Peter (as in, ‘and the Wolf’), played by Harry Potter look alike Shiloh Fernandez. Unfortunately for this star-crossed pair, Mama has plans to marry the tasty Valerie to the village catch, a brawny blacksmith named Henry (Max Irons). In a village where the blacksmith passes for royalty and woodcutters form the peasantry, it isn’t any wonder that everyone looks poor, pale and frightened. And they have reason.
Their village is haunted by a scruffy looking werewolf who shows up every full moon to devour their best livestock and pick up offerings of their pocket change.
Just as the engagement of Valerie and Henry is announced, Valerie’s sister is found murdered by the werewolf. This brings the village to the attention of Solomon (Gary Oldman), a nobleman/priest who specializes in ridding the provinces of such monsters. Pleased at first with his arrival, the bedeviled villagers soon learn that Solomon is a cant-spewing maniac who tortures and abuses the locals in the belief that one of them will confess to being the werewolf.
Soon neighbor is eyeing neighbor with suspicion and Valerie starts to dream about her grandmother (Julie Christie) and all those big teeth of hers. When it is discovered that Valerie can actually communicate with the wolf, Solomon decides to lock her up as a witch and then feed her to the beast. But just as the werewolf arrives and eviscerates Solomon, Valerie is freed by her drunken father, Peter and Henry. Only then does she discover that Solomon was right and the werewolf has been hiding in plain sight all along.
Stylishly shot, the movie is hampered by an uninspired script and one-note performances by mismatched actors. Virginia Madsen as Mama seems to have wandered in from an entirely different film. The talents of Julie Christie are wasted and Gary Oldman’s Solomon tries out various German accents in successive scenes without ever settling on any particular one. The story never really enthralls although there are scary moments and even a couple where you may be tempted to just get up and leave the theater.
When the great reveal arrives, the identity of the Big Bad Wolf is a surprise but not a very satisfying one. Why, you may find yourself asking, don’t these benighted villagers just pack up their wolf traps and move somewhere else? But in fairytale land, all villages are set near creepy dark forests and within every woodcutter lurks either Prince Charming or a hungry monster.
See you at the movies!