Red Riding Hood
Crimson-tinged and misty in all the right places, this 2011 version of Red Riding Hood is breathtaking as a hand-painted picture book and contains the most dramatic red cape a girl could ever hope to have. At various dreamy moments, it trails in a twenty-foot train across a blanket of snow, pools to form a ruby bed for kissing lovers, and spills over golden hair. Not since someone waved a wand and said Bippity Boopity Boo has there been a more alluring bit of wardrobe magic. I’d have twirled in it more but otherwise, it’s perfection.
This film was largely panned when it first swept onto the big screen last year but (call me superficial) I found any shortcomings in the plot to be more than made up for by its gorgeous look. And I liked the plot. It’s a fairy tale and it’s simple and any comparisons to Twilight are as expected as they are tired. Fortunately, it’s still legal to create something with a young female protagonist and a supernatural creature, provided you sign an agreement allowing all film reviewers to use the word “Twilight” no less than two times but as many as ten times when discussing your storyline. I’ve fulfilled that reviewing requirement now, I’m pleased to say. Anyway, Red Riding Hood doubly qualifies for Twilikening by including a love triangle, and whose fault is that? Sad but true fact: Homer, that copycat, was stealing plot devices from Stephanie Meyer before she was born.
Here’s another true fact: Red Riding Hood is best enjoyed if you sit back, breathe in the stunning scenery, and take it for itself.
The story opens with two children named Valerie and Peter and the trapping of a pretty white rabbit. That this sweet-looking girl and boy are thinking of killing the bunny tells you right off that things are going to get wonderfully dark. Jump ahead ten years to an older Valerie in a powder blue dress played by Amanda Seyfried, and step into the Medieval village of Daggerhorn. Plagued for decades by the threat of a roving werewolf, the people of Daggerhorn leave gifts of piglets to placate the beast, thus avoiding attacks. But things are about to change. After Valerie learns that her mother, Suzette (Virginia Madsen), has arranged for her to marry the son of a prosperous blacksmith, she and her childhood sweetheart, Peter, decide to run off together. Cue the werewolf alarm.
Panicked by a sound they have not heard in many years, the pair race back to the village as murmurings of a new attack ripple through the crowd. Valerie pushes through a circle of tearful friends and frightened villagers to discover that the center of their attention is her sister Lucie, dead by the wolf.
As the concerned citizens of Daggerhorn gear up to hunt the beast, we are introduced to Valerie’s father, who is the town drunk, Father Auguste, a caring young priest, and Grandmother, played with an uneasy twinkle and a sly, curled-lip by fetching Julie Christie. This interesting little cast of characters is soon joined by an outsider come to lend a helping hand; Father Solomon. As this role belongs to the always-sinister Gary Oldman, you may well guess how that turns out. It is Father Solomon who breaks the troubling news that the werewolf lives among them.
Two things keep the story rolling forward from this point on, Valerie’s up and coming marriage to Henry, the blacksmith’s boy, and the realization that she is the only one in the village who can understand what the werewolf is saying. When the wolf tears up the town one night, it demands she run away with it. Valerie looks into its big, shiny brown eyes and proceeds to imagine that the eyes belong to Henry, Father Auguste, and even her beloved Peter. Everyone is a suspect. No one more so than Grandmother. And rightly so. The woman pops up when you least expect her, lives in a crookedy old cottage in the middle of the forest, and, well, there’s just something about those big, shiny brown eyes. With her cool Medieval rasta locks and that great gingerbread-gone-wrong fairy tale house, she was my favorite character. Plus, she’s the one who gives Valerie that awesome red cape. How kind is that?
As snow falls and a dangerous Blood Moon approaches, Valerie is left to figure out the identity of the wolf while fighting to end up with the man she really loves. It’s a mystery AND a love story, and those are two great tastes that taste great together. Much suspense, passion, and beauty follow and the conclusion is heartbreaking and unexpected.
I really have only two gripes with this film. It’s unfortunate that the actors who play Valerie’s parents are given trite lines as a substitute for character development, and that these lines are meant to swiftly sum up their otherwise interesting histories. It’s also a shame that the two actors in love with Valerie (Max Irons & Shiloh Fernandez) come off a little wooden in the face of Seyfried’s luminous, glassy-eyed performance. These small missteps aside, if you appreciate fairy tales, pretty things, and the spell of a beautiful red cape, you really ought to give it a look. I thought it was just lovely.
Carole Lanham is the author of the short story collection The Whisper Jar (Morrigan Books, Oct. 2011) and a contributor at Storytellers Unplugged. You can find her book at amazon.com and learn more about her work by dropping in at carolelanham.com and horrorhomemaker.com