Sustaining a simple fairy tale over feature-length duration is no mean feat, but for the most part Red Riding Hood pulls it off. By no means one of the great fairy tale adaptations, nonetheless the film should satisfy the audience it is intended for.
Valerie is a beautiful young woman caught between two men. Her childhood friend Peter is a woodcutter who can offer little in terms of wealth. Valerie’s parents wish her to marry Henry, whose family has good standing in the village. Before Valerie can make a decision her sister is killed by a wolf that plagues the village. The villagers seek revenge, but the culprit may be closer than they think…
Screenwriter David Johnson has done a good job of transforming Red Riding Hood from a fairy tale into a mystery. The film functions as a whodunit, with the identity of the wolf remaining a secret until the final act. A number of characters are put in the frame; Valerie’s mistrust of those close to her is mirrored by the audience.
Suspense is duly built up as Red Riding Hood progresses, but the film is let down by the final act. The climax of the film is a bit of a mess, with too many aspects needing to be concluded at once. Moreover, the explanation given at this point appears at odds with the events that have taken place up to this point. While there was never going to be a rational explanation, the reasoning offered is highly spurious.
Whilst altering the fairy tale to something more appropriate for an older audience is understandable, it is a pity that Catherine Hardwicke’s film is infused with another strong mythology. The wolf is actually a werewolf; someone in the village is behind the murders. While a human culprit is necessary for the mystery aspect of Red Riding Hood, there is not such a need to root the story so deeply in the werewolf mythology. The film would have been stronger without this detour into hallowed ground and silver. With Hardwicke directing, the influence of Twilight is clear.
Amanda Seyfried makes an adequate heroine as Valerie. Shiloh Fernandez makes an appropriate love interest as Peter; although the actor is not called on to do much else other than brood. Gary Oldman brings some brevity to proceedings as Father Solomon, but this is not one of his finer roles.
Red Riding Hood is visually sumptuous, with its striking contrast of red and white. Some of the slow motion sequences are overdone, but overall the film is polished. Red Riding Hood can be posited somewhere between Sleepy Hollow and The Crucible thematically, although it does not match either of these films in terms of quality.