Wednesday, 7 September 2011

‘Grandmother, what big teeth you have’ … ‘All the better to eat you with!’ (A review)

I love fairy tales in any form, so I was really excited when, a few days ago, I got to see the film, Red Riding Hood, for the first time. As I watched, I was struck by the idea that the film was more like your standard YA fantasy book than any film I’d seen before. However, this is hardly surprising when you know that the director is Catherine Hardwicke, director of the first Twilight film and apparent lover of teen angst galore.

Red Riding Hood is set around the seventeenth century, in a small village called Daggerhorn. Within this isolated village, two stories are going on simultaneously, both of which centre around Red Riding Hood, whose name in this is Valerie, (Amanda Seyfried.) The first story is that of a werewolf who has prayed on the village for decades, and the second is Valerie’s romantic life. She loves her childhood friend Peter, (Shiloh Fernandez) but is being forced to marry the wealthy Henry (Max Irons.)

Red Riding Hood is at times a little bit Sleepy Hollow, a little bit The Village, but unfortunately is nowhere near as good as either. It lacks the quirkiness of Tim Burton’s imagination and the sweetness of the romance in The Village. Straight away, I was confused as to who everyone was. The opening scene should have been one introducing all of the characters, but the viewer is never given that. Because of this, it took me a good fifteen minutes to figure out who was who. This wasn’t helped by the lack of close-ups on anyone’s face but Valerie’s, and the fact that not one adult looks older than forty, including Valerie’s grandmother (Julie Christie.) One conversation that I thought was taking place between husband and wife turned out to be mother and son, and the actress who plays Valerie’s mother (Virginia Madsen) looks spookily like Amanda Seyfried’s older sister. I felt like I was watching an episode of the OC. I know you could argue that it’s realistic for people to be younger in this film, as in olden times they married young and died young, but as the film doesn’t attempt to be realistic on any other front, I think I have the right to want to know whether someone is old enough to be a grandmother just by looking at them. 

The other big flaw was the love triangle. Who needs personalities when you can have perfectly styled hair and big blue eyes? All three of them were boring, boring, boring, limp, lifeless and dull, and I didn’t care who she ended up with, although it didn’t take any guesswork to figure that one out. When is a love-triangle not a love-triangle? When it’s one big cliché, that’s when! And why on earth was Max Irons, of all people, cast as Henry? His American accent was appalling, and I can just imagine the phone call Max made to his dad, Jeremy, when he landed the role. “Dad! Dad! I’ve got a main part in this new film!”
Jeremy: (in his extremely recognisable voice.) “That’s great! What’s the character like? I love a character I can sink my teeth into.”
Max: “Well…(long pause)…he says things. I’m fairly confident he gets to say things. Sometimes … sometimes he even gets to make facial expressions.”
 Incidentally, unlike my sisters, I am not enamoured with Amanda Seyfried’s face. Sure she’s a pretty girl, but there’s nothing gothic or strikingly unusual about her, in my opinion. She lacks Christina Ricci’s bizarrely attractive, moon-like features, or Bryce Dallas Howard’s Pre-Raphaelite hair. This normally wouldn’t be a big deal of course, but in a film such as this, especially when the camera spends so much time on Valerie, I wanted to see someone who doesn’t look like the latest perfume add model. (Actually, that goes for all three leads.) 

Numerous absurdities can be found again and again in this film. The reason that Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) is so hellbent on killing werewolves is because it is God’s will, yet he’s happy to kill another priest, simply because the man gets in the way? Inconsistent evil for the sake of evil doesn’t work for me. And even though it snows throughout the film, everyone dresses like it’s a nice spring day, and no one ever so much as shivers. This was so ridiculous that it was like watching a school play which doesn’t have the budget to make things more realistic. Another issue is that Valerie’s friends just seem to exist in a parentless state, which doesn’t make sense given the circumstances. I can hear the producers’ conversation now…

“We’re not hiring another person over the age of thirty. We’ve got five old people already- that’s enough!”
“But ... but … things happen to people which will leave the viewers wondering where their parents are…”
“The parents are dead! Ok! That’s what we’ll tell anyone who asks. All the parents are dead. They looked in the mirror and saw a grey hair or a wrinkle or whatever and were so distraught that they ended it all.”

Cynical? Me?

Also, whilst I’m busy nitpicking, why does Valerie’s dad (Billy Burke) have a Bieber haircut?!

So, just to show that I’m not a completely joyless harpy who takes pleasure in hating all things, here’s what I did like:

The celebration dance scene was interesting and well choreographed. I liked how it combined old-fashioned dancing and modern dancing to make something that hasn’t really been seen before yet still works. That was perhaps the one original thing for me, so it gets a tick for that.

I also liked the murder mystery of figuring out the werewolf. I didn’t see it coming though the clues were there (to be fair, I wasn’t trying too hard to figure it out) and when we did discover whom the werewolf was, it was in a way that (mostly) made sense, and seemed well plotted, explaining away earlier mysteries.

For me, the grandmother was the most interesting character, so every scene that had her in it was a good scene. She was wonderfully mysterious and ever so slightly creepy. Valerie’s dream about her was the most frightening bit, and I mean that in a good way.

All in all, I’d give Red Riding Hood two stars out of five. It’s the sort of film that once you know the ending, you’d never watch it again, because there’s simply nothing to go back for. A strong romance would’ve been the draw for repeated watching, but unfortunately, as stated before, it falls completely flat on that front.

Ah well. It was a disappointment this time around, but I won’t give up hope that the future remakes of fairytales to hit cinemas (there seems to be two Beauty and the Beasts and two Snow Whites in the offing) will be worth watching.

Agree/disagree? Haven’t seen it? All opinions welcome in the comments!


Elana Johnson said...

Dude, I did not like this movie at all. I'm with you on so many points, especially the love triangle. So lame. My husband and I laugh about it all the time.

prerna pickett said...

lol, I actually know one of the producers of that movie- Alexander mace, he also wrote the story that the movie The Orphan is based off of. My son tried to kiss his wife (in his defense he was 3 and she's really pretty, so at least he has good taste). But yeah, the whole movie was like 'meh' to me. But I loved the song featured during the dancing scene, it's by Fever Ray and is called the Wolf, it was made specifically for the movie. Sorry for writing out my life story, just thought it was kind of cool.

Eleanor at Mirror Of My World said...

cant comment as havnt seen the film but hilarious anecdotes as always xo

Rachel Pudelek said...

Now, I saw this one a while ago, so I can't remember everything I didn't like about it, but I can tell you it was a lot. I really looked forward to watching it too. Like REALLY looked forward to it. And I agree, everyone was super young and their clothes didn't fit with the cold weather. It was one of those movies that made me sad because the bones were there. It could have been so much better. The character building was poor, and I assume it was to throw the viewer off the father's trail so we'd be shocked to find out, but really it only annoyed me. See, I like to be shocked because of an awesome story twist, not because they just failed to shine the light on one side of the room and then at the end, when they finally do we're all shocked because low and behold there's a chair in the corner. :)

Charlotte said...

Prerna- the longer the comment the better, so don't worry about giving me your life story! I enjoyed it and your son sounds very cute. :) I'm definitely going to look up that song now, and no offence meant to actual producers- just my imagination running away with me again.

Rachel, I have to confess that I like distraction as a technique- it's like what a magician does-'look over there! Look over there!' So you don't notice what is actually going on. And I might, ahem, be using it in my own WIP. But I totally agree that that's no excuse for poor characterisation, so maybe the twist would've been better if we'd spent more than a minute before in the murderer's company? I'm with you on that point!

Anonymous said...

I was thinking of watching this. Thanks for saving me the time. Now I can use that time to watch something better. I've never seen Sleepy Hollow. Is that a good one or do you have a better suggestion?

Charlotte said...

I personally love Sleepy Hollow but I can see why people wouldn't. It's quite gory though. If you're a Tim Burton fan generally, and don't mind a bit of gore, then I'd say give it a go. Otherwise, I can't really think of films that I remember as similar to this, but if you're interested in other genres I'm happy to tell you what films I like. My favourite film ever is The Mummy- if you still think you can trust my judgement, let me know! Hope that helps. :)