Catherine Hardwicke directed the first Twilight movie, but I tried not to hold that against her. Her first feature, Thirteen, was widely praised as an unflinching, non-Hollywood look at adolesence. Her follow-up, Lords of Dogtown, wasn’t as well liked by the critics; but with actors like Emile Hirsch and Heath Ledger playing the first generation of professional skaters, it only better illustrated Hardwicke’s complicated but relatable understanding of teenagers. By the time Twilight rolled around, I hopefully shrugged it off as a misstep. But with her new film Red Riding Hood, Hardwicke is either phoning it in for a huge payday after her big hit, or starting to establish serious doubt that her first films were flukes of good luck.
It’s probably unfair to automatically compare a movie to the last one from the same director, but it’s very difficult to ignore a Twilight connection here. Our heroine is Valerie, whose only crime is that she’s really pretty (she’s played by blonde bombshell Amanda Seyfried) and everyone wants to be with her. In her home village that feels vaguely german and middle-ages-y she’s in love with one ruggedly pretty man, only to be given in marriage to a rich handsome fucker. Then there’s the werewolf who haunts the village, who also wants to run away with her. Also, oh my God! The werewolf can talk!
Speaking of this Werewolf fellow, he’s on a bit of a killing rampage – in the past, there’s been a truce between the men and wolfman, but sudden bloodshed has forced the villagers to hunt him down (which makes this film feel like a CW-produced remake of The Village). Which brings about the mystery at the middle of this movie – who in this small village turns into giant fucking wolf on occasion? Is it someone that we never expect?
Oh, of course it is. This in spite of several horribly handled sequences in which Hardwicke focuses on one supporting character at time and makes it clear that, HEY MAYBE THIS SUSPICIOUS PERSON THAT HAS MOTIVES IS THE WEREWOLF (TAKE NOTE.) It’s never makes for much of a mystery, and it feels like a cheat at the end when the killer is revealed and they can’t even satisfyingly justify why he / she killed the inciting incident of a victim.
But hey, at least we have an eight-foot tall black wolf that enters and fucks shit up, right? Well, sorta. He certainly wrecks some havoc, but not in any cinematic way that makes him a monster worth getting excited to see. He just shows up a couple of times. At best he’s a plot device that the rest of the film is written around.
It’s clear that last year’s Alice in Wonderland helped make way for this adaptation of a childhood fantasy favorite, and the film is obviously trying to form a CG-wonderland with its setting, but the visuals of Red Riding Hood fail to feel fantastic, outlandish or even fun-looking. A lot of fake trees are thrown over green screens, and there’s a fair few fog machines were used in the production, but that’s about as far as the Art Department gets. The cinematography is similarly blank – the only shot with any artistry to it is just trying to look like a Thomas Kinkade painting. In a film full of non-starters, this might be the biggest failure.
Twilight had a lot of problems, but it also had some totally weird (potentially on-purpose) performances from Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and others that gives the movie a second life as entertainingly dumb. Red Riding Hood is just as dumb, but it’s never flagrant about it. Instead it’s just boring.