by Tony Dayoub
Red Riding Hood, Catherine Hardwicke's uninspired take on the traditional werewolf tale (by way of the Brothers Grimm and Twilight) reminds me of those Syfy Original Movies which play round the clock on Saturdays. They are usually designed to capitalize on something familiar, like the recent Tin Man miniseries, a sci-fi twist on The Wizard of Oz. Their cast is usually an odd mix of fresh faces, has-beens, and character actors culled from Syfy's own original series. And the movies are often set in one barely adequate-looking studio set made to look even cheaper by the inclusion of horrible CGI effects work.
In Red Riding Hood's case, the bad CGI contribution unfortunately turns out to be the ostensible reason one should have wanted to go out of their way to see the movie in the first place, the werewolf. Shunning practical effects is generally a bad idea when it comes to "hero" monsters like this one. But werewolves, in particular, generally cry out for practical effects work for some reason. Perhaps it is because one is meant to feel a touch of pity for them. The "dead eye" effect which usually afflicts computer-animated figures—a flat, emotionless stare which betrays the hollowness of such ciphers—is usually the main problem and the reason Hollywood still depends on good old-fashioned makeup and mechanical stand-ins even if just to supplement the CGI (as in last year's The Wolfman, a flawed film which won Rick Baker an Oscar for his makeup work).
Sadly, the "dead eye" issue seems to affect some of this film's cast as well. Shiloh Fernandez, the hairier of the two leading men competing for Amanda Seyfried's attention (and therefore, the prime suspect for werewolf metamorphosis), is the main offender in this regard. By the looks of him he was hired for his tousled, anachronistically-styled hair and his resemblance to Twilight's Taylor Lautner (that film's wolfie), the same way the British Max Irons, who plays his romantic rival, evokes Robert Pattinson. Lack of experience acting opposite placeholders for future CGI effects may be most to blame with these young actors, so this flatness is forgiveable. But how does the rest of the cast fare? Seyfried, Julie Christie (as Grandma), and Gary Oldman (as a werewolf hunter/inquisitor) are as good as one can expect given the inferior material. The rest of the cast varies from strictly workman-like to wildly over-the-top, with recognizability being less of a factor than you'd think; Virginia Madsen looks like she'd rather be back in Sideways, and Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica) and Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1) seem lost outside of their regular Syfy channel environs (you thought I was kidding earlier, huh?). Which is all the more strange considering Red Riding Hood's affinity with that channel's productions.
Like in those TV movies, Red Riding Hood feels stagey as it tries its best to capitalize on the ginormous, and no doubt hugely expensive, set which makes up the village of Daggerhorn. For years, Daggerhorn has been haunted by a wolf which the townspeople can usually appease with an animal sacrifice. The murder of Seyfried's sister changes all that, prompting a local priest (Lukas Haas) to call for a famous inquisitor (Oldman), who reveals it is actually a werewolf terrorizing the village. Worse, night brings a "blood full moon," a lunar phase that causes anyone bitten by the wolf to become a werewolf himself.
Ineffective allegory is alluded to, subtle but flawed commentary equating the inquisitor's witch-hunt in the film with societal paranoia in today's Tea Party era. Eventually, Red Riding Hood truly sinks into the depths of silliness with the inevitable inclusion of a scene in which Seyfried verbalizes the "Grandma, what big eyes you have!" exchange so famously associated with the original fable. The movie is so cliched, one can easily figure out the central "mystery," who is the wolf, quite early simply by applying the Moviegoer's Law of Attrition: whichever familiar character actor has been laying low for the first two-thirds of the film invariably turns out to be the answer to whodunnit. Red Riding Hood is one of 2011's worst films.