11-year old Ruth (Hannah Obst), nicknamed “Red” for her hair and color choice of clothing, runs away from home after her parents, who promised to take her to Cumberland Island, Florida, change their minds and enroll her in Girl’s Winter Scout Camp instead. Red decides to make the trip to Florida from Wisconsin herself and, using her sister’s ID, books and boards a flight for Daytona Beach, Florida. While at the airport she catches the attention of Lou (Mark Metcalf), a man with a little too much interest in what Red is up to, and where she is heading.
Once at Daytona Beach, Red finds herself struggling to survive. Sleeping on the beach overnight works at first, but she can’t sustain the early success of her adventures as the reality of her situation starts to set in. Worst of all, Lou has noticed that Red isn’t actually visiting her grandmother, and has other disturbing plans for Red. Luckily, before Lou can realize whatever sick ideas he has about Red, she strikes up a friendship with local surfer Kayla (Paige Bunker), who becomes Red’s traveling partner as they continue Red’s plan to visit Cumberland Island.
In case the title or some of the plot details didn’t clue you in, Little Red is a re-imagining of the Little Red Riding Hood story in a form that may be more relevant today. And for a film with such a simple tale at its core, it still manages to hold your attention while actually being a little bit fun too (well, you know, sexual predator angle notwithstanding).
For one, the film captures the beauty of being at the beach in Florida, and helps you understand why Red would be so entranced with that world. Sure, her decision to run away could smack a little of “spoiled brat doesn’t get her way so she makes her family suffer,” but you never get the impression that Red is anything but a very nice, albeit naive, girl. It’s not so much a case of someone trying to punish their parents for not getting what they want, but instead Red just dreamed of seeing those wild horses on Cumberland Island and, if no one else is going to get her there, she’s done waiting and will do it herself. There’s obviously an element of shelter to her life, however, if she actually thinks she can head to Florida on her own and just live on the beach without incident.
And speaking of incident, Mark Metcalf finds a whole new level of creepy villain for this film. It’s not like he’s not well-versed in being a cinematic asshole, but to embody this type of nutbar, with disturbing subtlety, at least at first, shows the man is up for any role you throw at him. Sure his character does get more menacing and unhinged as the film goes on, and there’s more of an opportunity to play it big and over-the-top evil, but Metcalf keeps it from becoming a case of scenery chewing. Instead he’s like the wolf in the original story; always there, lurking, waiting for the opportunity to finally strike.
Oddly enough, the film has a whimsical nature to a story that could be callously dismissed as being about a homeless runaway that is stalked by an increasingly aggressive pedophile. It’s strange, but for as dark as the subject matter can get, the film still maintains that air of innocence and separation. Red is always in danger, from the minute Lou starts paying attention to her at the airport, but you don’t fear for her as often as I expected to. Again, that’s part of the tone of the film; things could go south very fast, but you never believe that they really will.
Overall, Little Red is a quality, though often unsettling, spin on a classic tale. The film stays engaging even when the subject takes a turn for the dark, and somehow it all comes out of the darkness as being more about friendship and adventure than about sexual predators and prey.
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