Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), lives with her family in the village of Daggerhorn, a beautiful European town, nestling amongst pine forests, lakes and vertiginous mountain ranges. But this beauty hides a terrible secret – it is marred by a werewolf, who prays on the young people of the town, confining the populace to a life of fear and superstition.
However Valerie hides her own secret. Betrothed to marry the local blacksmith, Henry (Max Irons) – being one of the wealthiest people in the town this is considered a great catch – it is really a poor woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) that she’s in love with. But all thought of love goes out of Valerie’s mind when the next victim of the werewolf is her own sister Lucie (Alexandria Maillot).
In desperation to help cleanse his town from the menace of the nocturnal beast, the local priest Father Auguste (Lukas Haas), enlists the help of the highly revered, and highly feared, churchman Father Solomon (Gary Oldman). When Solomon and his entourage arrive, the town of Daggerhorn realise that their troubles are only beginning – it may definitely be a case of ‘better the devil you know’!
There is a problem with modern Hollywood. They believe they have to dumb material down to attract audiences, instead of giving the viewer something to make them think. Admittedly, the target audience for a film like Red Riding Hood, given that it comes from the team behind the Twilight films, is unlikely to be highbrow. But is that an excuse for shoddy workmanship? Neil Jordan’s sublime masterpiece The Company of Wolves (1984), took the same basic story and characters, but spun a stunning fantasy, which not only looked hauntingly beautiful, but also made you think without degree like effort.
Unfortunately what this new version of the legend lacks is meat – it’s a fairytale for the Twitter generation. Like the on-line virtual friends forum, it has no real life behind the visuals. Daggerhorn, a quintessentially gothic East European village in old Hollywood horror style, has more character than it’s residents, who pull their shutters closed at the merest whiff of a lycanthrope, and huddle in corners mumbling and tutting under their breath at any sign of advancement or individuality, as embodied in Valerie and Father Solomon. It is also worrying when the scariest thing in the film is not the werewolf, who would hardly raise a chill when compared to his compatriots from earlier werewolf films, but the Roman torture device that Oldman brings with him, and takes wicked delight in using on anyone who dares to speak out against him – it gives a new meaning to turning up the heat!
By the end of the film, which after an hour or so you begin to feel can’t come soon enough, you don’t really feel anything for the characters, who are either totally obnoxious, or one dimensional, or both. Which, considering that the film boasts a pretty impressive cast, is disappointing. You would understandably have expected something with more depth, more bite! However Seyfried (who sparkled in Mamma Mia!(2008)), is dull, despite being wrapped in vibrant crimson, whilst her rival love interests, Irons and Fernandez, seem to think that to act believably all you have to do is curl your lip and flex your muscles. Admittedly you do have Oldman who chews up the town, more than the werewolf, with characteristic relish, whilst Julie Christie as Valerie’s grandmother, only has to appear on the screen to steal whichever of the few scenes she is in. But given these legendary thespians charisma and presence, you are left wondering why they lowered themselves to such a dreary outing. Their effortless talents also only highlight the lack of this in the rest of the cast.
If you go back to the essence of many fairytales, you’ll usually find something quite deep, beneath the often grisly and horrific outer appearance. A moral or truth which even someone from a remote European hamlet (who were often the people who originally passed these stories on from generation to generation) could take on board. If they could, I’m sure the modern film going populace could manage to as well?