Sunday 17 November 2019

Movies: Red Riding Hood **


Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

People have been telling stories about wolves and dark forests for as long as there have been nervous kids to spook them with. Though it was rehashed by the Brothers Grimm in the mid-19th century, the story of the little girl in the red hood who takes on the wolf that ate her grandmother has been knocking around in middle Europe since at least the 14th century.

There have been attempts to adapt it for film before, most notably Neil Jordan's dream-like The Company of Wolves. Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood has a certain amount in common with that film, but a whole lot more with the Twilight franchise.

Ms Hardwicke directed the first of those hugely lucrative films, and we're only a couple of minutes into Red Riding Hood's preamble before you begin to suspect that she and Warner Brothers are trying to pull off a similar trick here. The elvishly pretty Amanda Seyfried is Valerie, a wispy heroine who has grown up in a small mountain village that lives in terror of a marauding wolf.

Although the era remains unspecified, this is ye olde fairytale land, and the villagers believe the creature that torments them is actually a werewolf. Every night a quivering pig or goat is left tethered in the square to placate the creature, but as our story opens it has killed Valerie's younger sister.

To complicate matters, Valerie is torn between two men. Since childhood, she has been in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her parents have promised her in marriage to another callow youth called Henry Lazar (played by Max Irons, son of Jeremy). While they do battle over her, a famous witch hunter called Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) sweeps into town with an impressive retinue and a large metal elephant, whose sinister purpose will be explained shortly.

The village men have just returned with a shaggy head they believe to be the werewolf's. Father Solomon, however, laughs them out of it. Solomon is fond of giving windy speeches, and he gathers the village to loudly tell them that this is merely a common timber wolf. A real werewolf has the power to turn back into a person during daylight hours, and Solomon insists the beast will return. Which of course it does, looking suspiciously like those weird creatures Jacob and his tribe transform themselves into when irritated in the Twilight films.

The wolf kills at will but is particularly interested in Valerie: she alone can understand him, and as the villagers cheerfully decide to offer her up as a sacrifice, a lot of nasty secrets are about to be revealed. Julie Christie, her face preserved in aspic by a team of dedicated professionals, makes for a particularly glamorous granny, and Hardwicke's film is not without the odd visually interesting moment.

Mainly, however, it looks a bit like one of those overblown 80s rock videos, to the extent that if Kate Bush had leapt from a bush and started warbling I would not have been all that surprised. In fact, I wouldn't have been all that surprised whatever happened, because Red Riding Hood's story becomes so incoherent that you start to think anything is possible.

There's a puzzling listlessness to the whole thing: no one seems all that frightened of the beast, who leaves behind commendably tidy corpses. Ms Seyfried and her suitors are an uninspiring trio of drips, though the heavyhanded use of pop music is clearly intended to persuade us they're a doomed love triangle in the manner of Bella, Edward and Jacob.

The only point of interest is Gary Oldman who, perhaps having read the script and given up hope, spits and shouts his way to a gory end. That metal elephant, incidentally, is a kind of giant pressure cooker in which uncooperative villagers are slowly cooked. They enter it cheerfully, no doubt seeing it as redemption from that awful script.

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