Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Red Riding Hood

A good portion of the various strengths and weaknesses of Red Riding Hood can be summed up in the following statement: When Gary Oldman's witch/werewolf hunter shows up at the village he has a life-size metal elephant. No really.

Which allows me to awkwardly segue into the plot. Amanda Seyfried has the lead as a girl growing up in Medieval Europe. She has recently been engaged to a rich blacksmith's son, but is still lusting after a poor woodcutter from her childhood (unroll your eyes, it makes it hard for you to read). While all this is going on a werewolf which has tormented their village for years has suddenly upped it's targets from animals to people, and a witch hunter is called in to deal with it. Surprise, surprise he tells them that the werewolf is human most of the time and he considers all of them are suspects, which is bad because it becomes rapidly clear that he is violently unhinged.

This is, to put it gently, one bizarre film. Part of this has to be put on the violently different influences the movie has, wanting to be, in more or less equal parts, Twilight, Let the Right One In, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Sleepy Hollow, and each of those is pulling the movie in different directions. This doesn't need to be a bad thing, after all many good films have been made by adding disparate parts together to try and make a new whole, and a couple of balls out classics have been created this way (I'm loathe to continue to overexpose O' Brother, Where Art Thou so instead I'm going to mention the more applicable example of Brotherhood of the Wolf.) But that takes skill, vision, style and above all, a complete lack of compromise on any aspect of it, or else your movie is going to fall apart at the seams. Guess which Red Riding Hood does. Go on guess.

Yeah, the news is not good. The film is full of jarring shifts of tone, absurd dialogue and more than a few moments of just 'what the fuck?' Along the way there are also too many characters and too many plot twists, leaving the movie feeling bloated and overstuffed. It starts out in a fairly rote Twilight clone, transforms at about the mid point into a mix of Sleepy Hollow and The Crucible before descending into a full out riff on the fairy tale of the title

The acting is a mixed bag, with Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried working their asses off to make the movie more than it is. The two male leads never seem to get really into it, but there's some good supporting work from Julie Christie and Billie Burke. The cinematography is actually really nice, if a little weirdly edited, which means that often times we're looking at well shot nonsense. Oh and the costumes are good, I guess. The mystery is fairly complex, which is nice and I can genuinely say that I didn't see the solution coming. Of course the story is aware of that and therefore spends most of the 2nd acting bouncing back and forth between hinting at solutions (although for a minute there I think they were hinting at something which could have been AWESOME if they'd gone anywhere with it).

Of course if all the rest of the technical details were good, I'd be giving a moderately positive review. The CGI is hysterically bad, especially since the last werewolf movie I saw won a fucking Oscar for it's werewolf. The screenplay reads like the writer fell asleep halfway through the class on subtextual dialogue and figured out that you should use it, but not how to write or implement it. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it really, really, REALLY wants to be R-Rated, and as a result feels compromised as you can almost feel how sexy or gory it could be if they'd just gone for it.

Look, bottom line, Red Riding Hood is not a great movie. Hell it's not a good movie. But it definitely could have been worse, and while I'm not in the business of assessing something based on it's message, I will say that it's desire to represent sexuality in a positive light and repression as a villain is much better than Twilight's anti-feminist message, even if they kinda wuss out on it by the last act. So, if you must take anything away from this review, let it be this: It is not good. But, on a technical and thematic level, it is better than Twilight. So...if you have to choose between the 2, go with this I guess? Why would that choice come up? Eh whatever. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan-born cinephile and he would like to declare that any movie where the line 'Put him in the elephant,' is uttered has officially jumped the shark.

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