In a fairytale village of indeterminate age and providence, young Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) faces the prospect of an arranged marriage to Henry (Max Irons), son of the wealthy blacksmith. Valerie, however, loves the orphaned woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). Really, they should all spend less time on their clichéd love triangle and more worrying about the predations of the local werewolf, which has attracted the attention of warrior-priest Father Solomon (Gary Oldman).
The press has been quick to label this the worst film of 2011, but that’s really jumping the gun; for one thing, we’re less than three months into the year, and for another, far worse films have already hit our screens. Which isn’t to say that Red Riding Hood is a great film; far from it. But there are enjoyable elements buried in the hackneyed teen romance. Gems like Gary Oldman.
Oldman knows what kind of movie he’s in, and acts accordingly. It’s a magnificently hammy turn, somewhat reminiscent of Vincent Price’s work for Hammer, complete with an accent that wanders all over continental Europe. There are times when the rest of the film almost catches up with Oldman, or at least bits of it do. The production design works a treat, evoking that Olden Days Neverwhen that only really existed on studio backlots, and there are a few nice nods to several better films – The Company of Wolves is an obvious antecedent, and there’s a village celebration in the second act that feels like the PG version of The Wicker Man.
The rest of the time, though, it’s just another ham-fisted attempt to hoover some of that Twilight money out of the young and easily swayed – hardly surprising seeing as director Catherine Hardwicke helmed the first Twilight movie. Seyfried is far better than what she has to work with, and merely seems resigned to going through what now seems to be a painful rite of passage for young, talented female actors. Her two love interests are less impressive, glowering and posturing ridiculously throughout the film. The rest of the cast is rounded out with some pretty decent character actors, and it’s nice to see Michael Hogan of Battlestar Galactica fame and Christine Willes from Dead Like Me getting some screen time. It’s odd seeing Lukas Haas in the fairly thankless role of the village priest, though, when just a few years back he would have been a contender for one of the leads.
Really, what we have here is two films in one. At certain points the film seems to be at war with itself, the tone shifting like a metronome as the arch ode to classic horror struggles for thematic supremacy with the callow teen exploitation drama, and there’s not much crossover between fans of either of those potential films – ultimately, they’re incompatible. In the end, no matter what demographic your hail from, your enjoyment of Red Riding Hood depends on your ability focus on the genre elements you enjoy and ignore the rest, which is no easy task. Like its featured monster, the film is neither one thing or the other, but a misshapen hybrid accepted by none.