Red Riding Hood 2 1/2 stars (out of 4) Rated: PG
The fairy tale about the little girl in the red cloak confronted by a scheming wolf in Grandma’s bed gets the whodunit treatment in Red Riding Hood, Catherine Hardwicke’s artful Twilight-inspired tale of medieval mystery and teen romance.
Set in a land as artificially lovely as a Thomas Kinkade painting, there’s nothing “little” about Red anymore. Pillow-lipped gamine Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) is red-cloaked Valerie, who is torn between her longtime crush, the brooding-yet-hunky poor woodsman Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and wealthy blacksmith Henry (Max Irons), who is her parents’ choice for her husband-to-be and also something of a stone fox.
But it’s not foxes that are uppermost in Valerie’s mind and those of the villagers of Daggerhorn. It’s keeping the bloodthirsty wolf — a werewolf to be precise — at bay. The rampaging carnivore terrorizes the town during every full moon.
After being satisfied with piglets left as midnight snacks, the wolf has claimed a human victim — Valerie’s younger sister, leaving her parents (Virginia Madsen and Twilight’s Billy Burke) to mourn. Worse, it’s the season of the blood moon, which means the werewolf can recruit a new acolyte by means of a bite.
Brave, self-confident Valerie is concerned about family and honour, but has enough of a bad-girl streak in her to keep her interesting. She worries about her grandmother (a youthful Julie Christie, looking like a sexy Rasta with long blond dreads trailing down her back), an odd duck who lives alone in the woods, her A-frame surrounded by spiked trees and swirling snow.
Better send for a werewolf hunter, suggests gullible village priest Father Auguste (Inception’s Lukas Haas), and who better than the famous Father Solomon? Played with zeal by Gary Oldman, the purple-robed prelate arrives in a fancy carriage with a pair of African bodyguards packing medieval heat and a pair of horses towing a life-sized bronze elephant.
As the vain and pompous Solomon, Oldman is the highlight of Red Riding Hood, a reminder of Alan Rickman’s amusingly evil Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He tells the villagers a chilling tale of how he discovered werewolves reside in human form during the day. Suddenly, everybody is a suspect and things long kept secret will be revealed.
With Solomon stirring the pot, even Valerie starts to doubt the loyalty of those she loves the most. Why is Peter suddenly being such a pill?
And what’s Grandma been up to alone in the woods?
Hardwicke helms Red Riding Hood with a clear vision for her target audience: young teens. There’s violence but little blood, some chaste sexy bits and a few, swift scares.
David Leslie Johnson (Orphan) uses sly humour throughout his screenplay.
Three little pigs show up in one scene; and yes you will hear “the better to see you with, my dear” and a chorus about not fearing the big bad wolf.
Adults will find this version of the classic cautionary tale to be slow in parts, but this movie isn’t for us, and Hardwicke — who gave life to the Twilight franchise with her successful take on the first book — smartly sticks to her plan.
Haunting and edgy pop sounds from Swedish band Fever Ray keep the ancient tale in the present while the door is left open to the suggestion of a sequel, another chapter in the story of a young woman who has more in her basket than goodies for granny when she’s determined to keep the wolf from the door.
Linda Barnard is a syndicated movie critic for The Toronto Star.