Red Riding Hood takes place in an alternate universe and timeline from us. Here, werewolves exist. Also, all trees have deadly spikes (houses need to keep these spikes as well), it snows nearly 24/7, people act without any emotion whatsoever (unless you’re Gary Oldman) — there are a whole bunch of differences, okay? Basically what I’m saying is that this doesn’t take place in our universe, nor does it ever claim to.
That’s probably for the best, because if Red Riding Hood attempted to be real, it probably would have been even worse than it was — and it was terrible. Not taking place in the same timeline and universe as its audience is about the only thing it could decide on, and as a result, ends up being a complete mess. It doesn’t have a consistent tone, theme, story, character arc, or idea that it wants to get across. Nothing works at all, but, unfortunately, that doesn’t make it enjoyable; this isn’t one of those “so bad it’s good” films.
Let’s begin with tone. I was never sure if this movie wanted to scare me, make me laugh, or make me want to see romance. It has one or two moments of horror, but neither time succeeded. I laughed a few times, although I’m unsure whether or not that was intentional. The romance is stressed the most, actually, and the film ends similarly to many so-called “chick flicks.” It didn’t seem like it was about to, and I was ready to applaud it for not falling into cliché for one time. “It’s not over yet?” I heard these words coming from the room and then the film decided to end exactly how one might expect. What a shame.
Speaking of clichéd story, that is more or less exactly what we get here. We begin in the past, with young actors who eventually grow up to be our stars. You can tell they’re in love, or as close to it as 10-year-olds can be. Fast-forward ten years and our lead has become Amanda Seyfried as “Valerie.” The young man has become Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), who now works as a poor woodcutter. They’re still in love, but Valerie comes to learn that she is now engaged to Henry (Max Irons), because her mother (Virginia Madsen) decided it would be so. See, it’s an alternate universe!
It doesn’t matter anyway. She doesn’t love Henry, he doesn’t really love her, and as a result, the love triangle doesn’t work. Valerie actually doesn’t begin the film as “Red,” but only becomes so after her grandmother (Julie Christie) gives her the extra-long Snuggie sans sleeves. Not that it really plays into things at all, as this is a really, really loose adaptation of the classic fairy tale.
Oh, right, there needs to be conflict. Enter a werewolf who kills Valerie’s sister which apparently violated some truce that the village had made with it some years prior. I want to see that story. How does one reason with a savage killing machine? Anyway, the town goes crazy, they enter a cave to hunt it down, a man dies, and a wolf’s head is brought back. The town rejoices, although we are only about twenty minutes in at this point. Clearly, something is still wrong.
Enter Gary Oldman, the one person in this film that has emotion. He tells the town, repeatedly, that the wolf they killed was just an ordinary wolf; the werewolf, the one that did the killing, is still out there. He stays in the town and awaits the wolf’s next attack. Everyone else decides not to listen to him, although I’m not sure why that’s the case. It seemed pretty clear to me that the werewolf wasn’t going to die that easily, although it would have been quite gutsy on the part of director Catherine Hardwicke.
Of course, Oldman is right and the wolf attacks at night. It manages to corner Valerie, and through what I can only describe as lycantongue (you know, parseltongue but with wolves?), it communicates with her. And it shows her that it has brown eyes. Therefore, everyone with brown eyes is a suspect. Oh, and after the wolf leaves, Oldman announces to everyone: “See! The wolf is still there! You should have listened to me!” This is after we just saw the town ravaged by this creature. Anyone still doubting at this point needs to have a head examination. We’re now 45 minutes into the film and we’re only now both (1) seeing the werewolf and (2) reaffirming that there is a werewolf.
So now we have a mystery that kind of takes over the failed romance. But we still need to be scary, so a bunch of “creepy” characters are thrown in to “scare” us. None of this works. Well, nothing in the film works to begin with, but the attempts to scare are especially awful. A sense of atmosphere might have been able to help this, but as I said earlier, there’s no consistent tone to Red Riding Hood. There are also a bunch of red herrings to try to throw you off the case of “Who is the werewolf,” although you get absolutely no prizes for guessing who it is.
That’s not to say the film gives it away. In fact, it largely ignores this character for most of the film before having him or her come out, tell us exactly his or her motivation for everything that happened, and then tell us why he or she is a werewolf in the first place. Red Riding Hood gives us a bunch of character who make it so obvious that they’re not the werewolf that I guessed (correctly) who it was early enough. But the film still loses points in my book for trying to deceive us and not leave any clues that we could figure out without being told in an exposition monologue.
Also making it lose points is the way that it opens. Remember those two little kids? Yeah, we meet them hunting a rabbit. A poor little bunny rabbit! And they’re 10! After catching it, they argue about who is going to slit its throat! A bunny! They’re 10! We then get the “ten years later” text and I hoped they would leave that part ambiguous. Nope. The werewolf apparently saw them and when it corners Seyfried’s character, we find out the rabbit’s fate. One dead bunny. One dead film.
I’ve gone on long enough. Red Riding Hood is awful. It’s not scary, I didn’t care about anyone, the romance failed, there was no atmosphere, it didn’t know what it wanted to do in each scene, and two little kids killed a bunny! (And more importantly, I fixated on that because thinking about the motivation behind it — which, by the way, makes no sense later on — was more interesting than anything else in the film.) I don’t think you can get more horrific than that. Now leave me with my armless Snuggie so I can head to the woods to give Grandma cookies.