Movie Review: 'Red Riding Hood' Gets a Grim(m) Update

Catherine Hardwicke is Anne Rice with a camera. She directed the first film in the Twilight series, but now, with Red Riding Hood, she shifts her attention and imagination from vampires to werewolves. Will Egyptian mummies rioting in the streets of Cairo be far behind?

Red Riding Hood is a sexy new take on the Grimm fairy tale that has given children sleepless nights through the ages, now overloaded with heaving bosoms and lines like “Be careful in the woods.” There’s plenty to laugh at, but despite a connect-by-the-dots script and too much overproduced silliness, it holds interest for two reasons: the dark, brilliant, evocative sets by acclaimed production designer Tom Sanders, who brought Transylvania to life in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula; and the delectable Amanda Seyfried, who left Big Love, the classy, controversial HBO series about Mormon polygamy, for a career making bad movies like Mamma Mia! and Letters to Juliet. She plays Valerie, the smartest and most beautiful girl in a medieval Alpine village called Daggerhorn. For decades, the villagers have been plagued by a wolf, offering it livestock to guarantee their safety. Then Valerie’s sister is killed. The wolf has broken its bargain, and everyone suits up for a big wolf hunt. Enter always-reliable ham Gary Oldman, a Big Bad Wolf stalker with rotting teeth, long silver fingernails and a variety of primitive crossbows and spears, who informs them all they are wasting their time and gets a big laugh when he warns, “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.” The wolf, he says, in an accent that sounds like Boris Karloff crossed with Maria Ouspenskaya, is really one of the villagers who turns into a werewolf when the moon is red. It also talks. And it’s got a thing for Valerie.

Everyone becomes a suspect, padding the movie with red herrings to pad the running time. Is it Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), the poor village hunk she’s had a hankering for since childhood? Or is it Henry (Jeremy Irons’ actor son, Max), the son of the richest man in town, to whom Valerie’s parents (Virginia Madsen and Billy Burke) have promised her in marriage? Or–God forbid!–could it be Grandma, who lives in a creepy cottage in the woods, sleeps under a blanket of wolf fur and is played by the great Julie Christie, who has temporarily lost her senses? There’s even a scene where Valerie dons the red cape Granny made symbolizing blood and virginal sacrifice, and observes, “What big teeth you have.”

During the full moon, the werewolf’s bite can kill you. But during a red “blood moon” a single tooth mark can curse your soul forever. The villagers board up their Lincoln Log houses and unpack their crucifixes, because there’s a blood moon coming. When it lands, with the force of a hairy tornado, the town splinters like Tinker Toys, and Valerie is the only one who can save her friends, family and neighbors. Jealousy, witchcraft, religious superstition and a lot of Grimm violence keep things moving, not to mention Valerie’s sex triangle consisting of her two handsome suitors and one amorous wolf. But the whole movie hinges on the identity of the Wolf Man, and brave Ms. Seyfried, with her full red lips and blue-green eyes like Beverly Hills swimming pools, does a fine job of keeping the pulse pounding as she faces a crisis waiting in every shadow and behind every doorknob.

Meanwhile, you can marvel at the two-story wooden Hansel and Gretel houses in the snow, lit only by torches. The village is a work of medieval art. Ultimately, what gives Red Riding Hood ballast is not the new twist of an old fairy tale set in contemporary motion, but the intriguing message that if you’re clever, sophisticated and wise, you can always outsmart the Big, Bad Wolf that is waiting to pounce in everyone’s life. But what if it turns out to be someone you know, trust or love? Even the traditional Tin Pan Alley reassurance in the light of the silvery old moon can’t help you with that one.

Red Riding Hood

Running time 120 minutes

Written by David Johnson

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

Starring Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen

2/4 Movie Review: 'Red Riding Hood' Gets a Grim(m) Update