Red Riding Hood loses its way

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Red Riding Hood

By Matt Brunson

RED RIDING HOOD

DIRECTED BY Catherine Hardwicke

STARS Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman

The idea of combining a werewolf tale with a whodunit is an interesting one, and the notion of adding layers of Freud and feminism onto the wolfman saga is positively genius. These angles have been tackled before (the Peter Cushing vehicle The Beast Must Die and Neil Jordan's mesmerizing The Company of Wolves, respectively), but Red Riding Hood initially promises that it will ambitiously tackle the lycanthrope tale on both fronts. Unfortunately, it botches the assignment, resulting in a film that proves to be rather toothless.

Catherine Hardwicke's status as the director of Thirteen is a plus, but she's also the helmer of the first Twilight picture, and it's the overriding influence of that blockbuster that damages this film. A well-cast Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, a young medieval maiden whose village has long been plagued by the presence of a werewolf. A visiting moral crusader (Gary Oldman, in camp mode) reveals that the wolfman is actually someone from the village, and this causes everyone to view their neighbors with suspicion and — shades of The Crucible — hurl accusations of witchcraft.

Had Hardwicke and scripter David Johnson buried themselves in the lore and atmosphere of their setting while accentuating the legend's leaps into sensuality, violence and the allure of latent desires, it could have worked beautifully. Instead, the focus is on the love triangle between Valerie and the village's two cutest boys, the smoldering Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and the simpering Henry (Max Irons). The teen angst that Hardwicke brought to the original Twilight (still the best film in that series) was appropriate, but here, it creates a modernity that's at odds with the rest of the film. After all, it's hard to bury oneself in the picture's moody period setting when the central thrust remains that Valerie basically has to choose between Justin Bieber and a Jonas Brother.

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