“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Dollywood”…is not how you want a review of your film to start. Sorry, Catherine “I’m So Bad, Even Twilight Fired Me” Hardwicke. It’s a shame, too, because Red Riding Hood’s premise, along with the trailer and evocative advertising campaign, intrigued me and had me eagerly anticipating its release. I was expecting a lush and sexy thriller to reinvent the legend and tap into all the sexual and psychological subtext in the story, but what I got was…I don’t know if you’re ever been to Dollywood, but the whole Red Riding Hood production reminded me of a well-produced “Fairytale Adventure at the Enchanted Forest Theater and BBQ Pit.”
Red Riding Hood, as you may have guessed, is about a village under siege by a wolf, and the young woman who finds herself at the center of it all. I adore Amanda Seyfried, and you couldn’t hope for a more perfect fairytale heroine. I’m surprised Disney hasn’t snatched her up for a live-action remake of Cinderella. But a good version of Cinderella. Not a teen angst Gossip Girl version, please. Even a Grimm’s version would be acceptable. I mean, have you ever read the Grimm’s version, with the step-sisters cutting their toes off and getting their eyes pecked out by birds? It’s…well…grim.
The Little Red Riding Hood legend is steeped in primal fears and desires. Innocent girls, hungry wolves, swarthy huntsmen, passive-aggressive grandmothers who live far away on purpose, just so you have to travel in impossible conditions to get there. And we’ve seen this legend covered before in entertainment, from the heightened sexuality of Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves to the existentialism of Sondheim’s Into the Woods. This production, however, looks and feels very much like a calculated attempt to cash in on the Twilight craze.
Twilight, for all its faults, does have a strong belief system at its core. Namely, that good girls wait until marriage to give in to temptation, no matter how dreamy the boy is. Yet, even though Red Riding Hood has centuries of deep, dark psychological mythos behind it, this version lacks a strong or coherent point of view. When all is said and done, the message seems to be that while you can’t trust a wolf in sheep’s clothing, you can probably trust the cutest guy in the village, especially if he has a big axe.
The script is also a problem, with dialogue that veers from “like, oh my god” Val-speak to arch, melodramatic fare that puts even Gary Oldman’s scenery-chewing skills to the test. Fellow cast members Virginia Madsen and Julie Christie are largely wasted, but play the Mother and Grandmother stock characters with as much gusto as they can muster, considering the limited material. And it’s always nice to see Lucas Haas.
The production design here is hit or miss, for the most part. While the Enchanted Forest Theater and BBQ Pit look impressive, if not particularly lived-in, the snow on the ground is pure Hollywood corn starch and becomes a distraction throughout the movie. Similarly, while the movie posters promised a lush, blood-red cloak that would rival even Jezebel’s vermillion dress, the film’s titular cloak looks more like a casual faded hoodie from Old Navy…or a knock-off from the Enchanted Forest Theater and BBQ Pit Gift Shoppe.
In its favor, I will say that there is a mystery involved here, and while there are some rather circuitous threads to follow, the revelation holds up, and it manages to surprise, but still make sense in the grand scheme of things. Overall, though, I couldn’t help longing for a grittier, sexier, more psychologically challenging take on the tale. Still, I have a feeling this will find life as a companion to Twilight at tween sleepovers for the next decade or so. With this lackluster film as evidence, I have a feeling that’s all Hardwicke was ever going for. Too bad, too, because the potential in the tale is limitless. Maybe Hoodwinked Too! will get it right.