Red Riding Hood Review

Fantasy writing is fun. For instance, the town of Daggerhorn is the centerpiece for this gothic adaptation of Red Riding Hood. Let’s play a game where we rename that town using the same methods they did, a weapon and an animal part. Swordtooth, Axetail, and Knifebeak. See, it’s easy.

Regardless of its name, the residents deserve what they get. They’re stupid. Actually, they’re worse than that, brainless dolts who go out searching for the werewolf that is assaulting their village, splitting up into smaller groups once inside its lair. They have complete protection with the holy ground of the church, yet are mindless enough to dive into the non-safe haven of their own homes when the Blood Moon rises, not to mention trying to attack it.

Maybe writer David Johnson would have been better off keeping it simple, and director Catherine Hardwicke eliminating the stifling, hilariously Twilight-like romance that doesn’t even try to disguise its popular teen origins. Then again, Warner would have been wiser to realize Disney’s billion dollar live action money maker Alice in Wonderland was popular for reasons other than its fairy tale familiarity.

Red Riding Hood is simply terrible, and surely was from its concept stages up through its completion. It was a bad idea, the story ripe for a darker edge, but not the teen trappings that savagely destroy whatever credibility it might have had. Well, that and it’s stupid.

The film doesn’t even look like a $40 million production, the set designers work hidden behind oppressive lighting, the camerawork on the level of a made-for-TV special, and the costume design seemingly pulled from some long forgotten Warner piece, clothing rescued from a moth-bitten closet. The droning score is impossibly irritating, a party dance number after the incorrect wolf is slaughtered grating on the nerves, not only for its complete and total pointlessness, but that “nails on a chalkboard” soundtrack that sits on top of it.

Warner, Johnson, and Hardwicke have turned a childhood favorite into a remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing, only here people act creepy (as if they’re the wolf) for no reason other than to throw the viewer off. Who needs logic when you’re trying to convince people the hot guys feuding for Amanda Seyfried’s heart are actually the painfully familiar CG werewolf?

Movie ★☆☆☆☆ 

Red Riding Hood was shot on film, and if you could actually guess that by looking at it, more power to you. There is an endless array of filters, light diffusion techniques, smoothing, and other digital tinkering at work here to completely clean the frame of its grain structure. It looks fully stylized for better or worse, the unrelenting softness and lack of precision enough to send a hi-def fan into a tizzy they may not recover from. That, or maybe it’s just the movie on its own.

The latter half of Red is marginally more tolerable than the first, although that’s like saying it’s more enjoyable to be stabbed in the foot than the hand. A smidgen of facial detail begins to show through come the final act, the type of stuff that is wiped clean earlier. Definition isn’t all that atrocious when it is allowed to be itself and not succumbing to a fantasy-oriented stylization. Valerie’s (Seyfried) red cloak, which is played up for all its worth, is obviously made from a thick wool, enough that the texture is unmistakable.

For environmentals, that’s a tough call. Exteriors of homes are somewhat soft, fighting against snow, exaggerated lighting, and the rest of the endless camera tricks. Interiors, always painfully dark, are lost to the lack of light. It doesn’t help that the film has two palettes, a nauseating orange for every single indoors area, a pale, bland light blue for outside. The only color allowed to shine is red, and for obvious reasons. It’s impossible to miss that hoodie (or whatever they’re called in this fantasy realm).

Black levels fail to keep their end of the bargain either, flattened worse than the proverbial pancake, robbing Red of its dimensionality. Maybe that’s part of the style too, or it could be keeping them light to avoid crushing additional and substantial knick-knacks lining the backdrops. Other than a few blinding light sources gleaming in through the windows, you won’t find much zip in the contrast either. The whole film is dreary as if it’s depressed someone is actually trying to sit through the entire thing.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

There are signs of life in this DTS-HD mix, more than what can be said for the video. For as miserable as the wolf looks, it likes to creep around a bit and stalk, creaking wood signaling the attack. The effects will pan around in various positions for maximum disorientation. During the assaults, villagers deserving of their own fate thanks to their monumental idiocy scream in panic or pain, all of that captured in a specific directional channel.

Bass plays a marginal role, reserved for those exaggerated footsteps of the wolf, or the occasional roar. The man-turned-beast proves to be the saving grace of this straightforward audio design. There are pleasing atmospheric touches, stuff like excited bar patrons preparing for the hunt or forest animals chirping that produce well-rounded ambiance. It’s a quiet surprise, never particularly forceful yet always a presence.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

If you’re interested in hearing someone explain this mess, there’s a pop-up commentary over the theatrical cut, the 40-second longer alternate cut apparently not worthy of director Catherine Hardwicke, Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez, and Max Irons’ words. To go along with the visual commentary, you’ll find storyboards and other sketches. Behind the Story is a collection of seven various featurettes, and the oddball Red Riding Hood in 73-seconds. You could just save yourself the time and watch that. You won’t miss anything. The rest includes how they reinvented Red Riding Hood, the creation of the CG wolf, a piece on the soundtrack, another on the leading men, and some casting/rehearsal tapes.

Three deleted scenes are here for a reason, and a gag reel has a few laughs like the actors constantly getting stuck on the wooden sets. Two music videos and general BD-Live access mark the end of this mess.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

Note: Screens based on alternate cut only.