How to Watch: “Red Riding Hood”

Step 1: How do you take a short fairy tale warning kids not to talk to strangers and stretch it into a feature film? In Red Riding Hood‘s case, not very successfully.

Step 2: Start with a red cloak. All the classic elements are in there: the girl, the red cloak, the woods, the grandmother – and of course, the wolf. Yet this time the wolf is a werewolf who terrorizes a small medieval village, nestled deep in the woods, and the girl, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is considerably older. In fact, she’s a beautiful young lady who is in love with a woodcutter named Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) but has been promised to the town’s richest eligible bachelor, Henry (Max Irons), by her mother (Virginia Madsen), who wants a better life for her. Val’s dad (Billy Burke) is a woodcutter, too, and an alcoholic, so the mom has her reasons, obviously. Valerie and Peter aren’t too happy about it and plan to run off – when tragedy strikes [cue ominous music].

Step 3: Veer off the path. You see, the town has an uneasy truce with this werewolf, offering small animals to the beast when the moon is full so he won’t kill anyone in the town. But when Valerie’s sister is found slashed apart, all bets are seemingly off – as are Valerie and Peter’s plans. The local minister (Lucas Haas) decides its time to bring in the big guns and calls for Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a known werewolf hunter. When Solomon arrives, he informs the town that this wolf takes human form during its off times – and that it most likely lives among them as they speak. Gasp!

Step 4: Get lost in the woods. Then the story becomes a sort of whodunit, mixed with the love triangle between Val, Peter and Henry. Up to a certain point, you have to stick it out because you want to find out who is the big, bad wolf, but Red Riding Hood does drag on. It’s not really the actors fault; they are just not given much to do. I mean, you couldn’t get a better Red Riding Hood than Seyfried, whose naturally big, expressive eyes do the trick in most of her scenes. The boys Fernandez and Irons (who is the son of British actors Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack) are eye candy as well, newcomers to the big screen who should find some luck there. But for the older actors, there are many wasted opportunities. Oldman seems bored, playing Solomon as a cross between Van Helsing and Vincent Price, while Julie Christie makes brief appearances as the kooky, new-agey Grandmother, handing out words of wisdom, and then fading away.

Step 5: Better to make it rated R. Although Red Riding Hood could have benefited with an R-rating, you can’t fault the look of the film, either. Those props go to director Catherine Hardwicke, who has learned a few things since directing  Twilight – but maybe not quite enough. While the script is ultimately the film’s downfall, Hardwicke also has a problem with pacing. She taps into her young lovers’ yearnings, but some scenes go on and on, especially the weird celebratory scene in which the whole town is dancing drunkenly in the streets after they think they killed the wolf. Like I said, if the film had an R rating was able to escalate the sex and violence, this could be an entirely different review. But I guess, in order to keep the younger audiences, Little Red Riding Hood can’t really be, er, devoured.