Maybe it was director Catherine Hardwicke’s intention to subvert expectation and stereotype by setting her Little Red Riding Hood tale in airs of moody medievalism with a revisionist werewolf context, and to mostly yank the fairy tale hokum and fun factor away. Maybe she was self-hypnotized by the success of her similarly slow and vibe-soaked Twilight, that box-office smashing, young-love-at-first-bite phenom. Whatever the case, this Red Riding Hood feels wobbly and imbalanced and in need of a few winking in-jokes along its trudging path, however propped up with production values and good postmodern intentions.
In the mystical Twilight and her earlier naturalistic film, the impressive Thirteen, Hardwicke has brought teen dreaming to the big screen in radically different ways. That trend continues in this valiant, if uneven, Riding Hood redux, which injects themes of sexual rite-of-passage and strained young love into the mix. Mostly, though, the effort here is about giving a spookier spin and flesh-and-bloody angst to a childhood classic whose dark elements are lightened by the sheer silliness of the tale.
Still, there’s plenty of atmosphere to soak in here and much to admire on filmic terms, including the casting. The orb-eyed and lovely Amanda Seyfried nicely suits the role as the wolf-coveted, red-clad one, Virginia Madsen gives a glow as her mother, and Gary Oldman polishes off his best Big Bad Guy in Benevolent Clothes act. Juiciest of all, though, is the beloved Julie Christie as the proverbial “grandmother” with the house in the woods, and good reason for her anti-social behavior. The very thought of Christie, the masterful erstwhile “it girl” in the role of the old gal who would have big teeth—“the better to eat you with”—is reason enough to hope for some cinematic playgrounding. And while we are treated to a fleeting taste of the infamous wolfish granny scene, it appears as a dream and as an anomaly in a film in need of some ironic roughhousing.