Given my own recent run-in with a fuzzy woodland critter, it seemed appropriate to devote this latest Review to 2011’s Fantasy Fairytale Horror mash-up, “Red Riding Hood”.
I know… it’s sort of weird for me to review a movie so… so… mainstream (at least here in the US) at the Litterbox, but once in a while I do actually watch films without subtitles that I can actually buy right at my local Walmart. Still…. I wouldn’t be the Catgirl Movie fan I am if I didn’t occasionally succumb to the urge to watch something that my sweet Carolyn wouldn’t need her own personal “sherpa guide” to follow. Lately, it seems, a whole lot of such films have gotten to DVD release and it’s only natural that “Movie Night” would eventually be filled with them. Even so… a movie for me has got to have something out of the ordinary to keep me interested. Like werewolves…. Yep, that’ll do.
Our synopsis? Try this: “In a medieval village named Daggerhorn a beautiful young girl, Valerie, falls for an orphaned woodcutter named Peter much to her family’s displeasure. When her sister is killed by the werewolf that prowls the dark forest surrounding their village, the people call on a famed werewolf hunter to help them kill the wolf. But as the death toll rises with each moon, the girl begins to suspect that the werewolf could be someone she loves. Panic grips the town as she discovers that she has her own unique connection to the beast–one that inexorably draws them together, making her both suspect…and bait.”
Naturally a woman like me, with her own whimsical aspirations of being a magical Catgirl Princess, definitely understands the allure of a good Fairy tale so watching this one was a given. Throw in a strong female heroine and a tragic romantic triangle and I’m hooked for certain. But will the deep dark woods and it’s big, bad wolf equal the rollicking thrills of my usual Asian Ghost Romances? You know the answer to that as well as I…. you just gotta watch it and see!
Pssst!! For those of you new to the ol’ Litterbox, that means it’s time to “Read On!!”
Our story starts out in that ” faux medevial-y” part of olden Europe that just might be France (or not…)… or possibly Germany (but I don’t think so).. or just about anywhere that has that distinctive look of a wee bit of Transylvania mixed with an old Hammer Film set. It’s a quaint village of peasants eking out their meager lives in the shadow of a huge forest chock filled with creepy gigantic spiky-limbed trees the like of which your Favorite Catgirl has never… ever…. seen anywhere. I’m thinking there probably aren’t a lot of vampires lurking about this area…. nope, not at all. Werewolves…. now that’s another kettle of fish entirely.
Daggerhorn’s got one of those alright. Up till now that hasn’t been much of a problem, given the little “arrangement” our villagers have worked out with their pesky monster. Every month, right as the moon gets full, all the villagers fort up in their houses at night and stake out a goat or some other poor farm animal to be the sacrifice to satisfy the carnivorous urges of our monster. It’s worked pretty well for about 20 years or so but as our film gets going, that comes to a rather grisly end. Why? Well that’s the heart of our story…. and our story revolves around our title character, Valerie (played by Amanda Seyfried).
She’s the prettiest, sexiest, downright yummiest young virgin girl in the whole village… perilously trembling on the on the cusp of womanhood and the object of desire for two of Daggerhorn’s hunkiest guys. Sounds like every young girl’s dream, right? Ummmm… not really.
You see, Valerie is in love with poor hardworking woodcutter Peter (played by Shiloh Fernandez) but her parents have come out of nowhere and announced that she is soon to be married to Henry (played by Max Irons), the son of the village’s wealthy blacksmith. Yep…. that always sucks. Gotta love this irritating old notion of selling off the affections of your daughter to score big bucks and social standing as if she was nothing more than a piece of property to be bought or sold like the family cow. (Yes… it certainly raised this wee Catgirl’s ire….. I just hate such ideas, Grrrr!!) Poor Valerie is beside herself with frustrated longing and soooo… soooo darn close to just chucking it all and running away with Peter when tragedy strikes.
Her best friend and older sister Lucie (played by Alexandria Malliot) slips out of the house for some unknown reason on the dreaded night of the full moon and becomes the victim of our ravenous monster. Her torn and bloodied body is found the next day before Valerie and Peter can make their plans for a quick exit from Daggerhorn and Valerie’s unwanted wedding. In the grief and turmoil surrounding this terrible event, those plans sort of get lost in the shuffle. Instead all the men of Daggerhorn get the manly notion that it’s time to climb the ridiculously steep mountain nearby that is reputedly the lair of the beast and end their nightmare one and for all. Yep… break out the pointy peasant implements and testosterone, it’s monster stompin’ time…. Henry her intended fiancé… well he’s not really into this whole idea, but once his rival Peter signs on and he and all the other lads all start giving him that “look”…. well he’s just gotta join in and validate his manliness quotient.
All it does is give us some tunnel crawling suspense… ending with the vicious attack of our werewolf who kills Henry’s dad Adrian (played by Michael Shanks). Ohhhh… the others still manage to corner and kill the beast somehow, but that’s not the end of things. It’s just never that simple. During that evening’s big “pagan dance party/ celebration” a group of real tough boys roll into town, complete with armored stagecoach and big ol’ iron elephant statue thingee. Why it’s infamous the witch hunter Father Solomon (played by Gary Oldman) and his band of big bad mercenary thugs…. here to break the bad news that the wolf they killed wasn’t the wolf they were looking for. You see he knows all about werewolves…. and when you kill them they turn back from wolves to their human form once again. Just like his late wife did after he killed her years before. Oh yeah… not your warm and fuzzy sort of preacher our good Father. He’s scary… but the locals all scoff and take no mind of his gloomy warnings that wolf is actually still very much alive… and worse, probably living right among them disguised as one of the villagers themselves. Crap.
Oh…. and to further complicate matters, it’s the dreaded “Time of the Blood Moon”. Huh? Say what!? Yep… this would be our film’s lil’ addition to the werewolf legend. Seems once every 13 years a blood red full moon occurs and it’s only during this time that the curse of the werewolf may be transmitted through the creature’s bite. Sound stupid, silly, and contrived? OK…. ignore that….. let’s just roll with it.
One nifty wolf attack sequence later as the party starts to wind down and Valerie and her friend Roxanne (played by Shauna Kain) get cornered by the monster. It looks bad for a moment…. until the wolf starts to talk to Valerie…. in her mind… (Telepathic werewolves, who’d have thunk it…) telling her that if she will agree to go away with the wolf all the terror will end, otherwise the wolf will keep coming till all the villagers are dead. Hmmmm? Talking to werewolves in your head? Sounds like Witchcraft to me…. Unfortunately it also sounds like Witchcraft to poor frightened Roxanne, who needs to shift suspicion away from her retarded brother. Worse…. it sounds pretty suspicious to just about everybody else too. Darn….
Here our movie shifts into that familiar notion of setting once trusted friends, neighbors, and even family and lovers against each other as paranoia and distrust start to tear the community apart. Who’s the killer werewolf? Obviously the “witch” must know…. Throw the juvenile lover’s triangle on top of it all and even Valerie starts freaking out and losing trust in just about everybody around her. Meanwhile… Father Solomon could care less. He’s got a much more “no-nonsense kill-them-all-and-let-God-figure-it-out” approach to werewolf hunting. If the Wolf wants Valerie so badly… why then she’s the perfect “bait” for him to lure it into a trap.
Here we get the usual banding together of Valerie’s two brooding hunky suitors, determined to save her at all costs… even if one of them might just turn out be our monster. But then everybody might just fit that bill. It seems her Mother Suzette (played by Virginia Madsen) has her own secrets… having had an affair with Henry’s dad resulting in older sister Lucie years and years ago. (Hmmmmm? Maybe that’s why the two girls never looked anything alike…. I can’t believe nobody else in the village ever noticed that). There’s always Granny (played by Julie Christie)…. living out in the woods…. all alone… knowing far too much about herbal medicine and perhaps other things as well. And then there’s Valerie herself… and the nagging question of why she alone possesses the eerie power to understand the beast at all. This paranoia… and the “witch hunt” mentality behind it, is perhaps the best element of an otherwise predictable story…. a shame they don’t really spend much time exploring it.
Without spoiling things for you, let’s just say that the final third of our film ramps up the action a bit but never quite reaching the peak of monster stomping action I’d hoped for… giving us a chance to wrap up the admittedly convoluted and needlessly complicated plot in sufficient if not entirely sensible fashion. Director Catherine Hardwicke is the one responsible for the recent 2008 film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling book, “Twilight” and it’s familiar themes of “angst ridden teen love meets monsters”, so it’s not surprising to see her go much the same route here. Personally, I’d have preferred a darker, more Gothic stylized treatment of this fairytale. Knowing their target audience was probably the same as for “Twilight”, they went for a safe and easy PG-13 rating, so you wont get the graphically grisly horror of, say, “The Howling”…. and that’s a shame. This Catgirl generally likes her heroines tough and spunky as well as cute and pretty, and although Amanda Seyfried is good here overall, there’s precious little of the butt-kicking tough girl action of my usual Asian films. Neko would have really liked to see her don the Red Cloak and go all medieval on the Wolf to save her boyfriends from it at the climax in true action heroine fashion. Instead, she is mostly passive throughout, allowing events to happen around her rather than initiating action on her own until the very end.
Given this, I can only really give “Red Riding Hood” 3 “Meows” out of 5 for being a technically well made film, just not a truly memorable one. The costumes, effects, and sets are certainly pretty, but nothing special overall. I suppose most of my disappointment has to do with a certain… annoyance… with the whole somewhat whiny adolescent way the romance is handled, it’s just all been done before…. with vampires…. (Please… people… next time just watch the original “A Chinese Ghost Story” if you want to see how tragic doomed supernatural love stories ought to be done before making another one of these sorts of films…..) and the lack of enough gory action for any movie featuring werewolves…. The Region 1 DVD is well produced… with extras like deleted scenes and an alternate ending, available for a fair price most places. For most of you though… I’d say this would be better as a rental.
I’ll leave you with a Trailer, just to wrap things up all neat and tidy, just like lil’ Red’s picnic basket, Hehehehe!!.