“Red Riding Hood” is not just a bad film. It is a spectacularly bad one; one which serves as the visual equivalent of a once well-received and well-regarded filmmaker’s descent into the credibility black hole. Director Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”, “Thirteen”) has delivered a film so juvenile, so cheap-looking, and so poorly acted and directed that I have no idea how or if she can ever recover.
Immediately after seeing this film, I tweeted:
“Red Riding Hood…directed by Catherine Hardwicke…inspired by Uwe Boll…”
If you are unfamiliar with the name Uwe Boll, take a weekend with a box of your favorite wine and watch some of his more amazing failures. Films such as 2005′s “Alone In The Dark” with Christian Slater and Tara Reid (as an archaeologist no less!) and 2006′s “BloodRayne”, a jaw-droppingly terrible sword-and-sorcerer’s tale that makes no sense whatsoever, cemented his status as the modern-day Ed Wood. After critics around the universe panned his films, Boll famously dared critics to fight him in a boxing ring and then inexplicably landed Ben Kingsley (yes, Sir Ben Kingsley) to star in his 2007 medieval masterpiece, “In The Name Of The King: A ‘Dungeon Siege’ Tale”. Watching “Red Riding Hood”, I thought of those films a lot and found Hardwicke’s work here comparable to the best of Mr. Boll. As the characters tromp around on an obvious and low-budget set, I was mesmerized at the terrible quality of the film and the laziness of the entire project. And then I began to wonder if Hardwicke’s breakthrough hit “Twilight” was the worst thing that could have ever happened to her career.
Trying to replicate the pretty with her cast, Hardwicke is provided with a pedestrian and emotionally stunted script by David Leslie Johnson (Orphan). “Red Riding Hood” takes place in the medieval town of Daggerhorn. Life in Daggerhorn has seen a peaceful existence for the last 20 years, but fears of a deadly werewolf lurking outside the village has made Daggerhornians (?) afraid. Rather oblivious to the growing fears is the beautiful Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) who is smitten with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and since childhood has dreamed of running away with him. Unfortunately for her, and for largely illogical reasons, she has been arranged to marry the not-as-cool-or-apparently-nearly-as-hot-but-like-Peter-still-uses-hair-styling-products-even-in-medieval-times boy named Henry (Max Irons). Valerie wants Peter and has no interest in Henry and complains to her mother (Virginia Madsen) and grandmother (Julie Christie) about the arrangement. Her mother’s advice? “You know sweetheart, when I married your father I didn’t love him either…” Okay…wait. What?
When Valerie’s older sister is found maimed and murdered, Daggerhorn members summon Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to rid them of the beast. The murder coincides with the recent blood moon and Father Solomon connects it all together. The moon caused the wolf to commit the murder and the villagers are under attack and Valerie is still gazing at Peter and he is so dreamy…
Sorry. I’m back.
And on and on it goes. Father Solomon yells, pushes people around, and makes life even more miserable for those who live on the apparent soundstage that is Daggerhorn. He is gratefully unpleasant and Gary Oldman’s performance is one of the most embarrassingly overreaching and overwrought things I have seen in a long time. Of course comparing his performance to the anemic and emotionally vacant work of Shiloh Fernandez’s Peter makes for an always amusing comparison. In the presence of a legendary actor such as Gary Oldman, you would think Oldman’s grandstanding and yelling of lines would have had some influence on Fernandez’s performance. But no. He is a dead and empty vessel, spitting out lines as if they are being fed to him through an earpiece. When Peter and Henry share an intense dialogue, essentially setting aside their “rivalry” to fight off the menacing beast, people were laughing out loud at Peter’s line delivery. And I don’t think that was supposed to happen.
Nor was a nightmare sequence involving Valerie and her grandmother supposed to elicit laughter. And when a major twist comes in the middle of the film involving Valerie, her best friend, and the werewolf, I can promise you that Catherine Hardwicke and David Leslie Johnson did not want people to get up and walk out of the free advance screenings Warner Bros. Pictures arranged. But it happened when I was there – 4 people in the row behind me, and 2 more a couple of rows ahead of me. And those were the ones I could see. All from one decision and one moment where even the most fervent supporter of Hardwicke, Seyfried, and Oldman would have to acknowledge the film did not just jump the proverbial shark, it ran willingly and at breakneck speed into the razorsharp teeth and mouth of that shark.
If you are a defender of Catherine Hardwicke’s films, either because of “Twilight” or the searing wake up call that was her first film, “Thirteen”, please just stop. Quit it. “Twilight” looks like “Citizen Kane” compared to “Red Riding Hood”‘s amateurish direction, shoddy art and set decoration, lazy and uninspired editing and cinematography, and the gutwrenchingly absurd lines these characters have to speak. God bless Amanda Seyfried, but she needs to break free from her agent immediately after this failure and salvage a once-promising career.
As atrocious and awful as it is, why give it even a half-of-a-star, you may wonder? Well, as my friend pointed out, consider it a shout-out to those caterers who showed up on set everyday and worked hard to provide everyone a good meal. And the people who taped stuff down. And those who made the rather obvious but pretty fake flowers. And the people who worked hard trying to find props. They were innocent bystanders to all of this. The best thing I can say is that “Red Riding Hood” kept people employed in a brutal economy and difficult job market. They couldn’t have known what the end result was going to be.
They deserved better. And so do you.