Before the “Red Riding Hood” screening my plus one remarked that she was expecting one third of the movie to be establishing shots of trees. So when the movie indeed opened with five minutes of aerial forest shots, we had a good giggle. Sadly, the forest isn’t the only thing Catherine Hardwicke rehashed. These days, she specializes in supernatural fairy tales involving young girls who want nothing but to traipse around in the woods with their forbidden boyfriends. Only this time the girl is blonde (and the wolves look a little different). You can expect plenty of intense close-ups of the leads; close enough to see their big damn eyes. In short, the people who love “Twilight” will love “Red Riding Hood.” The people who think “Twilight” is stupid will think the same about this movie. The people who think that “Twilight” is responsible for breeding a generation of girls with low self-esteem and terrible taste in men will think that “Red Riding Hood” is perpetuating the problem. I swear, sometimes it feels like “The Feminine Mystique” never happened.
Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before. In a gloomy village deep in the forest, there lives a beautiful young girl named Valerie (Amanda Seyfried). She doesn’t think much about her looks but still manages to be the premiere object of desire. All she wants to do is distract her boyfriend, Peter, from his wood-chopping job and talk about running away together. With an arranged marriage and a werewolf stalking her village, there are plenty of reasons to bail. But when the werewolf murders her sister, she puts that plan on hold to help unmask the monster. She soon learns that the werewolf is after her and is living among them. Could it be her boyfriend, her betrothed, the town Jesus freak or even dear old grandma? Probably!
The “Twilight” comparisons were inevitable, but Hardwicke didn’t have to make it so easy. She changed the costumes and sets, but otherwise, it looks like it’s in the same universe. This is the cleanest medieval town ever and the gene pool is impeccable. Everyone’s a looker, even the village idiot (retarded Rupert Grint). The worst looking guy is Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), and he’s not even from there. He arrives, accompanied by two Nubian supermodel soldiers, to help sort out their wolf problems. We never do meet the town alchemist, as he’s probably far too busy making hair product to pay any mind to werewolf business. Everyone speaks with an American accent except for Father Solomon and one guy who sounds suspiciously Canadian (Michael Hogan, “Battlestar Galactica”). Valerie has frequent smolder-offs with Peter from across the square. Valerie and Peter engage in some revenge dancing while an unseen electronic goth band plays. Her two suitors have verbal and physical fights over her and she doesn’t do much to discourage it. People say melodramatic things like “I know you’re burning inside” and “I DO CARE! … I do care.” During a passionate make-out session, Peter growls, “I’ll eat you up!” Incidentally, they handle all of the references to the source material in this same ham-handed way.
When Hardwicke isn’t busy plagiarizing herself, she’s employing Sy-Fy movie-of-the-week techniques. Any time Valerie goes anywhere, the wolf shaky-cam stalks her. Often, it turns out not to be the wolf, but some other jerk who apparently has trouble holding his/her head still. Once we learn the wolf is a villager, the camera makes its rounds, lingering accusingly on the suspicious face of each suspect. The only thing missing is, “dun dun duuuun.”
I hate to say it, but this may be all Joss Whedon’s fault. He invented the “monster with a heart of gold” vampire. Of course his was a metaphor for teenage angst. Myer and Hardwicke misinterpreted it as a literal endorsement for a bad relationship. Girls in love with monsters are the new Princesses.
Now, I realize that this movie isn’t for me. It’s for the squeeing hordes of Hot Topic clad adolescents who are probably on Team Jacob. But I was one of them once. Sort of. In my day, we didn’t have teams because we were all on the same one. I’m not sure what you’d call it but it involved trying to be Winona Ryder. Our “Twilight” was “Bram Stokers Dracula”. It’s not a great film, but the only thing it hurt was our cred at the video store. The girl in “Dracula” wants to die for her Count but she ends up with Keanu Reeves. She was probably just under vampire thrall the whole time, anyway. She wants the bad boyfriend but everyone (including her) knows he’s bad and must be destroyed. Evil is sexy, but it’s still evil.
What makes me saddest about this whole debacle is that Catherine Hardwicke really isn’t doing any favors for the ladies of the Director’s Guild. When they brought her this script, she could have said “You know what? I’ve done troubled girl in a supernatural love triangle. I’d really like to move on so I don’t get pigeonholed.” But she didn’t. She could have said, “I’ll do it, but I’m going to tweak the story so that it’s not so similar to my past work. Plus, this script really blows”. She didn’t do that either. There are certainly male directors who are guilty of the same thing. But since gender equality hasn’t quite made its way into the world behind the camera a female director has to be better than that. A studio picks up a script for a “Wonder Woman’ movie or an “X-Men” and they’ll bring up Singer, Snyder or Favreau. If someone mentions a female director, unless it’s Kathryn Bigelow, they would probably be laughed out of the room or fired. And, in the end, they still wouldn’t give it to Bigelow. Until women stop making movies about girls who are independent only as far as what man they choose to be with, they’re never going to be considered for anything meatier. Hardwicke might sleep fine making gothic soap operas broody teenage girls, but she really should know better.