Little Red Riding Hood is a story that has been reshaped and revised for hundreds of years. It has been touched by the hands of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm and more recently by computer animation in Hoodwinked. Only a red cape, a grandmother, a wolf and the woods are necessary to deem a story a retelling of this classic fable. Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood contains all of these elements, but little beyond these symbols exist to connect her story to its more classical narrative.
In this rendition, the girl cloaked in red is no longer a child, but now a young woman. She lives in a medieval village that is isolated from the outside world because of an evil creature that haunts and torments the town. Monthly, during each full moon, the townsmen sacrifice their finest livestock to keep the beast’s murderous tendencies dormant. Violence still erupts, though, and a young woman is slaughtered. The victim’s inconsolable sister is Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) and the rightful owner of the nearly blood red cloak. Her grief for her deceased sister is immense, but her ultimate torment comes from the agony of a star-crossed romance with a man that she cannot have.
Peter, played by Shiloh Fernandez, is that one true love. He is a dangerous and handsome woodcutter, destined to be poor, but consistent in his broody sex appeal. Tragically, she is betrothed to Henry (Max Irons). Henry is an amicable, attractive and quite wealthy fellow, but far too passive and decent to win Valerie’s heart. She has no fire for him, but his love to her remains true. Basically, just think of Team Edward and Team Jacob and nearly all of the details regarding the love triangle will be explained.
As both men fight for her affections, a priest, played by a wonderfully sinister Gary Oldman, arrives in the village. He is here to kill the creature, which he explains to be a werewolf. This creature is not dwelling in the woods or in a far off cave, but is living in its human form within the town. It has fooled everyone and no one is to be trusted. Oddities begin to occur surrounding Valerie proving that not only is her life potentially in danger, but the wolf could be closer to her than she thinks.
Valerie,a frequently visits her grandmother (Julie Christie) who lives in the woods and is a bit eccentric. This is only in the film and mentioned in this article as a reminder that this is the Red Riding Hood story.
The vast disconnect between the traditional story and this film though is not my complaint. Fairy tales have maintained their longevity throughout the years because of their tangibility. It is their mutations that keep them in existence; it is what keeps them fresh. Catherine Hardwicke can alter, manipulate and shift the story around as much as she sees fit as long as it is entertaining and told well. Filled with a cast that includes Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, and Virginia Madsen it seems, if nothing else, the performances would be stellar. However, all of these talents are merely filler between heaving chests and stolen glances between the three leads caught in their triangle. While they are all very attractive, their romantic rendezvous are standard and cliché. The burning that Valerie claims to feel for Peter might need to get checked out, because there was very little tension between them and I never felt as though sparks were about to ignite.
The film was shot, almost entirely on a set in Vancouver, Canada and it consistently attempts to create a constant reminder that it is, in fact, a fairy tale. There were moments were I felt as though I was looking at an illustration of the story. Often times the screen is filled with soft rays of light creating a golden warmth on the actor’s faces, as well as the village itself. This is paralleled with harsh whites and greys from a nearly constant snow. The stark contrast between colors and tone creates a dissonant, artificial world that moves nearly into the fantasy realm. Unfortunately, not enough realism was retained and instead the locale was a perpetual reminder that is was solely a set decorated with CGI.
Fairy tales have no true authors, nor official versions. They are easily pliable and can be reshaped to fit modern themes, conventions or morals. The stories are simplistic and common enough that they almost feel a part of society’s collective consciousness. Variations between adaptations only allow them to grow and evolve for new generations. The attempt to move the story of the Little Red Riding Hood into new territory is a valid and interesting one. It is lost though, in exaggerated, yet flat, acting; an intense, melodramatic plot; and a set hiding behind rich golds, stark whites, and of course, blood reds. Red Riding Hood feels more like a high school theater production than a multi-million dollar studio-produced film. Any compelling elements disappear due to direction that constantly feels lost. It’s not the concepts of the film that presents the problem, but instead solely the execution.