"RED RIDING HOOD" — ★★ — Amanada Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen; PG-13 (violence and creature terror, and some sensuality); in general release
In "Red Riding Hood," a loose adaptation of the classic European folktale, the medieval village of Daggerhorn replaces Forks, Wash., as the backdrop for "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke's formulaic mix of teen romance and supernatural horror.
The story follows beautiful young Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who, although betrothed to the village blacksmith, Henry (Max Irons), secretly hopes to run away with her childhood crush, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez).
Their plans are interrupted, however, when Valerie's sister is found with her throat torn out by a werewolf, thus ending a generation-old truce between the shape-shifting monster and the people of Daggerhorn.
To finally deal with this problem, famed werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) and his exotic band of mercenaries are summoned, arriving just in time for the "blood moon" — a three-day period when the werewolf's curse is transferrable to human victims. But amid the growing paranoia of werewolf attacks and Father Solomon's investigation, Valerie discovers that she shares a frightening connection with the beast preying on her village.
If this doesn't immediately conjure nostalgic memories of the "Little Red Riding Hood" story you heard as a child, don't be surprised. Except for the obligatory red cloak worn by Valerie and a few token references to lesser-known traditional details, such as the path of needles, Hardwicke makes very little effort to link "Red Riding Hood" to the European folktale it purportedly adapts until more than three-quarters of the way into the film's two-hour running time.
Instead, the director's attention during the first 90 minutes is divided between a bland, derivative love triangle (which, to be fair, borrows from "The Notebook" at least as much as "New Moon," although without anything resembling the level of character development in either of those films) and a clichéd horror-mystery setup overrun with obviously contrived red herrings.
It's difficult not to look at a movie like this with a certain amount of cynicism, though. To an even greater degree than usual for Hollywood, the entire film seems like a calculated effort to appeal to key demographic groups, particularly the sizable fan base of Hardwicke's previous film, "Twilight."
In so doing, the filmmakers somehow muddle perhaps the most enduring feature of the "Little Red Riding Hood" story — its cautionary message for children — instead leaving the audience with a half-formed moral about the virtues of non-conformism and "love" over social responsibility.
Furthermore, many of the same issues that plagued the director's unpolished adaptation of "Twilight" are painfully evident in "Red Riding Hood," as well, including stilted acting by both relative newcomers and veterans alike (the exceptions being Seyfried and Oldman), cheap-looking special effects, and laughably bad dialogue (this time courtesy of screenwriter David Johnson).
Thankfully, Hardwicke forgoes the ubiquitous blue filters of "Twilight" in favor of a more varied visual style that makes full use of the blood-red cloak worn by Valerie.
Aside from the occasionally striking visuals, though, one of the film's only redeeming features is its at-times hauntingly beautiful score. In addition to music by Brian Reitzell ("30 Days of Night") and collaborators Alex Heffes and Anthony Gonzalez (of French group M83), "Red Riding Hood" showcases experimental Swedish act Fever Ray (the stage name of Karin Dreijer Andersson) during one of its most memorable and stylishly anachronistic sequences.
While definitely not enough to save the film, the score does offer brief glimpses of what "Red Riding Hood" could have been in the hands of a more capable and detail-oriented filmmaker than Hardwicke.
Parents should be aware that even though this film is being marketed toward the same audience as "Twilight" and will very likely appeal to fans of the Stephenie Meyer series of vampire romance novels, "Red Riding Hood" skews much more in the direction of genuine horror and, while by no means graphic, does contain a greater degree of violence and sexuality.
"Red Riding Hood" is rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality; running time: 99 minutes.