Friday, May 10, 2013

Film Review: Red Riding Hood (2011)

2011's Red Riding Hood is a fairly predictable attempt at recreating the success of Twilight by combining the elements of the ever-popular paranormal romance with the time-honored tale Little Red Riding Hood, allowing this movie to cash in on two recent fads at once: over-sexualized man-killing monsters, and gritty goth reboots of classic fairy tales. Those who know anything about the state of the media industry in the past six years will right away be familiar with the premise, because they've seen it forty-billion times before.

That's okay, though, because a lot of people eat this up in the hopes of discovering something a little more fresh. I will admit to being one of these people.

The film goes out of its way to make sure that it's an adaptation of the original story and not just cashing in on the famous imagery, and the effort is somewhat successful and occasionally enjoyably subtle, but usually it feels like the tale of a girl, a wolf, and her grandmother is being forced into an entirely different story where it just doesn't belong. While the film covers the four characters (Little Red, the Wood Cutter, Granny, and the Big Bad Wolf) and includes the very famous "My, what big teeth you have" exchange, it's really hit or miss whether or not these elements actually work in the world being created and the tale being told. It makes one wonder if this movie would have been able of standing on its own, but that also brings up the question of whether it would have been as enjoyable if it were not a reimagined fairy tale. Honestly, I'm not sure, because a large portion of the coolness comes from seeing how the director, Catherine Hardwicke, twisted the classic conte.

In true paranormal romance-fashion, the film is small part gothic and large part porn, but not ever the satisfying kind of porn that culminates in two glorious, glistening naked bodies crashing together in the throes of passion, but the disappointing kind of striptease porn that leaves you large unsatisfied. The romance is overshadowed by the small fact that there isn't very much. We are introduced to Valerie (Little Red Riding Hood) and her childhood boyfriend Peter and simply told: "This is the couple. You want them to be together, and they want to be together", but the film never really makes us care one way or the other. It does introduce a new character, Henry, because what's a hornfest without a triangle? However, it's made very clear that Valerie wants no part of Henry's nob, and she regularly goes out of her way to avoid or insult him. Which is fine, because his early portrayal casts him off as a bit of an abusive douchebag. Despite this, Henry eventually proves that he's a good and noble person who cares more for legitimate affection than arranged marriage and says that he will cancel the wedding so Valerie can be with Peter, whom she truly loves. Valerie, after attempting to dissuade Henry for the entire movie, decides that she wants to kiss him, either because she's crazy or because she gets off on watching men anguish at being unable to have her.

One thing that put me off the "romance" track and right onto the "porn" track was the fact that Valerie constantly, whenever in the presence of one of the male protagonists, appeared to be more in heat than mice in a bakery. I don't know if this was the fault of the actress, Amanda Seyfried, or the fault of the director. All I know is that "I want to jump your bones" does not really do it, romantically. I found myself not caring at all who won out the triangle simply because I never got the impression that there was real romantic attraction and desire among any of them. They all simply had an itch to scratch.

Most of the characters aren't particularly likable and a lot of their development is simply told to us. We're told that Valerie is the prettiest and the fastest (granted, the point of her being the prettiest is actually shown by the entire female supporting cast being pretty darn ugly with the exception of the character Prudence), we're told that Henry is rich before we meet him, and we're told that the wolf stinks. Nobody ever so much as wrinkles their nose when the wolf is about, but we're told that it sure does smell awful! Towards the end of the film when we finally see who the wolf is (a twist I actually enjoyed) we're treated to an enormous info dump which lasts about five minutes. It's kind of boring and the dialogue isn't written very well at all.

The most notable change this film makes is that of the wolf, who goes from being an average, if personified, wolf of the woods to a semi-demonic town-terrorizing werewolf. While this is an obvious change, and I think even Once Upon A Time has done it recently, I enjoyed it. Particularly, though, I enjoyed the character of the wolf. Everything about it drips with badassery, from its attitude, to its fighting. The wolf is portrayed as the clever and cunning creature it was in the original tale while also being a hulking monster of muscle and demonic force. While you can tell it's CG, that doesn't really hurt it at all. The wolf is still very stunning to see in motion and I wouldn't want it to have been portrayed any other way. If for no other reason, see this movie just watch to it rip into a few soldiers. The wolf scenes alone are worth it.

Visually there is high-contrast style to the film that firmly places it outside our reality. The movie puts a high emphasis on color contrasts, having the important elements of a character or important items/aspects really glow against the stark snow that covers the small town of Daggerhorn. Red's cape is brilliant, the wolf is brilliant, and I especially liked how each and every autumn leaf seemed to be bright and... juicy is the only word I can really think of. Visually the film is superb, and that's due in large part for the decision not to focus on super bland realism and instead to develop a visual style of its own, one which I feel is more reflective of the nature of fantasy.

The score is unmemorable. I actually don't remember a single bit of music except for an annoying alternative metal "song" being played during the celebration scene. What I do remember is liking the feeling they were attempting to bring out by combining the old German settings, colorful, if dark, visual style, and alternative music along the lines of Evanescence and Fly Leaf, but how they totally missed the mark in terms of good music. It gets the point across, but it probably could have been better.

Generally, I enjoyed the film and will probably watch it again, though not any time soon. It was a visual treat, and films with this kind of gothic tone really rub me in all the right ways. It could have done with more work. Some of the characters could have been better developed, for a movie it did an awful lot of telling and not showing, and I think the level of kink, or at least implied kink, could have been toned down for a more romantic romance. Something that gets the heart pumping and the butters flying as opposed to the faucet running.

Seven out of ten for the movie I liked but could have been much better.

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