I’ll hand it to Catherine Hardwicke: She’s attempting to distill the essence of a teenage girl’s sexual fantasy into cinema, and she’s coming closer with every try.
Sure, Twilight had its share of touch-yourself-but-don’t-finish shivers, but her new Red Riding Hood is a real Bavarian cream dream, existing in a soundstage Expressionist/Freudian forest where the trees sprout thick, jutting thorns, haystacks bloom with bright blue petals, and pure snow exists for the purpose of being mottled with drops of crimson blood.
Hardwicke’s visual indulgence is unlikely to meet with much critical appreciation, mostly because David Johnson’s screenplay is atrocious—both plot and dialogue are squirt-Coke-out-your-nose bad—and the swooning supernatural women’s picture is one of the last genres reviewers feel no obligation to take seriously. But a movie is more than the mere staging of a script, and there’s significantly more energy roiling here than in half of Marvel’s formulaic grabs for dude cash.
It’s a backhanded compliment, but Red Riding Hood is a film that might play better as a silent, though the pagan-revel pop music is actually pretty good.
Amanda Seyfreid, as the Germanic werewolf-victim/werewolf-heir/werewolf-lover Valerie (her status is ambiguous,
until it’s very not), has arresting features—half innocent, half sultry—but bland, Middle American speech patterns.
Hardwicke hasn’t instructed the veteran actors (Virginia Madsen and Billy Burke as Valerie’s parents, Julie Christie as her grandmother) whether to approach the material hammy or flat, and the interchangeable young hunks can’t tell the difference.
But unplug your ears in time for Gary Oldman, who arrives in the village square as a hunter-turned-inquisitor straight out of the graphic novel Andrei Rublev, Wolfslayer. Bringing with him an iron elephant (probably so he can later scream the line, “Lock him in the iron elephant!”), Oldman also totes along his taste for high camp—the movie basically pauses in its tracks for Crazy Uncle Gary’s Story Hour, which is entirely welcome. Then it’s back to stoking its pubescence reveries, which get weirder and weirder, until eventually Seyfried is tied to a sacrificial altar and fitted with a cast-metal pig mask, in what can only be described as a vivid humiliation/submissive fetish scene. It brings a new meaning to the saying, “Lock up your daughters!” and suggests that Hardwicke, though limited as a dramatist, has few psychological spaces she fears to go.
My, what big kinks she has.
Red Riding Hood
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
With Amanda Seyfried, Lukas Haas, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke and Gary Oldman
Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14
Aaron Mesh is the movies editor and a general-assignment reporter at Willamette Week, Portland, Oregon’s
alt.weekly newspaper. He is also the co-founder of Beer and Movie, a year-round festival that programs new and classic cinema at Portland theater pubs.