I can’t tell if Catherine Hardwicke is in on the joke. The joke, of course, being Red Riding Hood, a truly terrible fairy tale movie that hops on the ugly, tired Twilight bandwagon. One that Hardwicke rode early, directing the first movie in the series.
But even in Twilight I felt like Hardwicke was in on the joke. Like she knew that this shit was simply ridiculous, that the life and death stakes of the story were just a 14 year old girl’s over-dramatic inner monologue given huge, silly life. I like the first Twilight the most out of the series because it’s the one that feels most tongue in cheek, the one that most embraces the badness. Nobody seems to be taking it seriously.
So is Hardwicke fucking around with Red Riding Hood? I just can’t tell. I can tell that I laughed heartily throughout the film, cackling and guffawing at horrible line readings of horrible lines, anachronistic hairdos, goofy reveals and shockingly low production values.
The film is set in some European forest in the Middle Ages in a town that has been beset by a werewolf for two generations. Every month on the full moon the people leave sacrifices for the beast, and for years the peace has been kept. Red Riding Hood (she has a name, but hell if I can remember it) grows up a spirited girl who is in love with a dark haired boy, but when she comes of age her parents set her up with a different fella, this one having the more secure job of being a smith. Both boys look like vapid, generic pieces of undercooked pork, and neither seems to be terribly familiar with acting.
Against this backdrop of a drama-free romantic triangle the werewolf strikes again. The townsfolk, led by none other than Colonel Tigh from the new Battlestar Galactica, take into the woods to kill the wolf. But when Gary Oldman, playing a werewolf killing expert from the Vatican, arrives he informs them the beast they killed is an ordinary lupine creature and that the real monster is still out there.
There’s stuff here that might have worked in an earlier draft of the script by David Johnson (who wrote the wonderful Orphan), but what’s in the movie I saw only hinted at being passable. The Oldman character is fun - an over the top bad guy who thinks he’s being a good guy. He’s so tough on werewolves he even killed his own wife for being one, and now carries her hand in a box with him. The whole second act involves Oldman trying to suss out who in town is the wolf, and there’s a good movie in that concept. This just isn’t that movie.
There’s a good movie in the whole Red Riding Hood concept; with Red’s bad boy lover being one of the main suspects for the wolf there’s a Hammer-esque gothic romance quality to everything - at least conceptually, since it’s not actually there in execution. But there’s enough fog in the town graveyard to make you wonder what the classic Hammer studio would have done with the script for this movie. Cast better actors in the romantic leads, that’s for sure.
They wouldn’t have shot on location, a decision that Hardwicke also makes. The town is on a soundstage and does it ever look like a soundstage. You have to wonder how the wolf makes it past the security guards on the lot. While Red Riding Hood does have a handful of honestly stunning shots, most of the movie is flat and stagebound; it turns out the fake snow technology of 2011 is not much better than it was 40 years ago, and the shitty white powder on the floor of the stage only serves to enhance the fact that everything is phony.
Also phony: the performances. Apart from Oldman, who is much more restrained than you might expect, there’s not a good one in the bunch. Amanda Seyfried looks great but is blank. She’s given almost no character to play, and she floats through the film on the power of her eyes alone. The rest of the cast around her is adrift; unsure what the tone of the piece is they flail from broadly silly to overdramatic, and it’s rare to see two performances that are actually in tune with each other.
It’s possible that the film could have been redeemed through the horror elements, but the CGI werewolf is just as fake as the town, but without that stagey charm. Looking more or less like one of the Wolfpack from Eclipse, the wolf leaps around weightlessly, bristles unconvincingly, and is generally shitty. I don’t know that this can be considered the worst werewolf in movie history - there are some horrible stinkers in the annals - but it’s certainly in the running.
There’s so much more to rip apart with this film, from a weird dance sequence to the fact that none of the characters seem to communicate with each other or often even care if other people are alive or dead. But this review has to come to an end at some point and I know you’re not going to see this movie… until it comes on cable, when you’ll get to see all the bits that had me laughing out loud.