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Movie Review: Red Riding Hood (PG-13)

rrhBy: Roxana Hadadi

 I’ve been in love with Leonardo DiCaprio since I was 9 years old, but I will literally never forgive him for “Red Riding Hood.”

You see, rumors abound that DiCaprio was the one who suggested the idea for “Red Riding Hood” to director Catherine Hardwicke, saying she should put a “Twilight” spin on the classic fairy tale. Voila, the film is infused with the same melodramatic darkness that permeated “Twilight,” Hardwicke’s previous work, and DiCaprio has a producer credit on the flick. Boo!

“Red Riding Hood” is everything that’s wrong with films geared toward women, a jumbled mess of erotica and horror that teaches girls to wait for unattainable men who previously treated them like crap. That’s exactly what happens with Bella and Edward in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, and that storyline’s familiarity is part of what is so terrible about “Red Riding Hood.” That, and the acting, and the dialogue, and the effects, and everything else – nothing is redeeming about this film, an undeniable waste of 120 minutes that I sincerely hope no one else has the displeasure of seeing.

If you remember the fairy tale, it went like this: Little Red Riding Hood wanted to bring her sick grandmother some food; the wolf figured out where she was going; wolf eats her grandmother and pretends to be her to fool Little Red Riding Hood; wolf also eats Little Red Riding Hood but is split open by a woodcutter, who saves the girl and her grandmother before eventually killing the wolf. The forest is a dangerous place, if you didn’t already learn that from “Deliverance.”

Hardwicke’s film tries to deliver the same messages, but wraps them in so much terrible dialogue and poor character development that the story is insufferable. Things begin in a village on the edge of a “dark forest” where a werewolf lives. For 20 years, the villagers have been sacrificing their best livestock each full moon to the beast, hoping it will be satisfied and not eat any humans. Everyone in the village, including Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), knows of the legend, but she’s too busy being in love to follow the rules – best friends since childhood with woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), who kind of looks like Rufio from “Hook,” Valerie dreams of escaping the village and running away with Peter.

Valerie’s parents, though, have different ideas: They arrange her marriage with Henry (Max Irons), who comes from a rich family in the village, and don’t want her to have anything to do with Peter anymore. “If you love her, you’ll let her go,” Valerie’s mother warns, and when Valerie’s sister Lucy is killed by the werewolf, she and Peter are further pulled apart. He’s bitter over the futility of their future, so he goes with Henry and other townsmen to find and kill the beast; Valerie, confused as to what she should do, goes to see her grandmother (Julie Christie), who lives on the edge of town. “I feel like I’m being sold,” she tells her grandmother, who gives her a red riding cloak to help cheer her spirits. Duh, new clothes make everything better.

But things don’t get any easier for Valerie, as she remains stuck between Peter and Henry and becomes eyed with suspicion by the rest of the town after the arrival of Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a Van Helsing-type who rages about how God is stronger than the supernatural. Determined to find the werewolf and kill it, Father Solomon spreads a McCarthyism-like terror through the town, making everyone eye each other with greater fear and mistrust. As they all turn on Valerie, it’s up to her to find and kill the real werewolf in order to restore her name and regain her future.

What I just described could maybe be a cool movie, if Valerie were a strong character with her own convictions, if Peter spent more time caring for her than he did moping, if the motives of the werewolf were understandable and believable. Instead, the film follows nearly the exact same format as “Twilight,” with a weak-willed female character defined only by the men in her life, living only by their decisions. Valerie’s character shows glimpses of bravery, such as when she refuses to back down to Father Solomon’s threats, but overall the film’s messages about love are again the dribble “Twilight” tells us: that women should only wait for men, that they can’t live for themselves, that the love of a man can be a woman’s only defining character trait. For a female director like Hardwicke, this is all pretty embarrassing.

The only thing that makes “Red Riding Hood” dissimilar to “Twilight” is the level of commitment from the actors – it seems like everyone in “Red Riding Hood” gives up halfway through. The acting from Fernandez and Irons gets flatter and flatter and Seyfried relies only on her big eyes to portray any emotion; at least Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson stuck to their long glances and moping faces. It’s only Oldman as Father Solomon who really brings some fire to his role, and that’s not really saying much, given that his accent is pretty terrible. What happened to the man who played Dracula so effectively in 1992? Who knows.

As for horror, the genre this PG-13 film is being marketed as, there’s basically none of it. For younger teens, the CGI-heavy werewolf (who slashes girls’ faces, bites off humans’ arms and throws them around) may be creepy, as could be Father Solomon’s misogyny and zealotry, such as his tendency to carry around dismembered limbs. Also included are some stabbing, battle scenes, a few torture scenes, a weird dream Valerie has about her grandmother (which works in the “what big ears you have,” “what big teeth you have,” lines from the fairy tale), the killing of a rabbit and a wolf attack, leading to the animal’s head on a pike. There is also some sexual content, such as a horizontal make-out that is supposed to lead to sex but doesn’t, and some suggestive dancing.

“Red Riding Hood” thankfully doesn’t leave itself up to a sequel, so we won’t be getting anymore of this story anytime soon. It’s a terror, that’s for sure – but probably not in the way Hardwicke wanted.

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