Depending on who's talking, director Catherine Hardwicke was either fired from the sequel to her moneymaking launch of the Twilight franchise, or she chose to walk away. Either way Hardwicke, a talented, brassy filmmaker not known for her chick-flick sensibility, remained determined to make her own bloody movie -- in every sense of the word. The result is the transcendently awful Red Riding Hood. This is Hardwicke's Twilight Part Deux, and to hell with the Brothers Grimm -- it's all about the gore.
Not that the world's most analyzed folk tale isn't fair game for multiple readings, and as it happens, one widely accepted interpretation is that Red Riding Hood is a rite-of-passage parable about menstruation, with a wolverine rape fantasy tucked in for good measure. That's not Hardwicke's racket, though either conceit would be a perfect fit for a movie that oozes red, from the crimson cloak of the titular medieval maid played by Amanda Seyfried -- Kristen Stewart being busy, I'm not kidding, doing Snow White -- to the blood-hued moon that keeps gliding out from the clouds. And then of course there's the scarlet stuff flowing from the dead bodies of sundry villagers, each selected for a fatal bite from our lupine friend, a scrofulous beastie with red-rimmed eyes and what appears to be a severe case of the mange.
Lest he miss the supernatural bandwagon, Wolf comes fashionably retooled here as were-Wolf. Far from confining himself to stalking caped virgins in the forest, the beast lopes boldly into town (a row of scenic little Swiss chalets borrowed from the set of Heidi) and sinks his molars into innocent bystanders, most of them with suspicious connections to Little Red. (And what was that girl doing anyway, menacing a cute white bunny with a knife in the opening scenes?)
Grim hints of family dysfunction abound: There's a troublesome edge to Grandmother, played with eyebrows appropriately raised by Julie Christie. Papa (Twilight's Billy Burke) is an unhelpful role model; Mother (Virginia Madsen) is a bit of a social climber who warns her daughter's low-born suitor -- in the marvelous mashup of faux-feudal and Hollywood modern that passes for dialogue in this movie -- that "I know what a woodcutter earns. If you love her you'll let her go."
Lest you suspect Hardwicke of being anti-girl, she glues on a Feminist Moment, in which the village women band together to protect their community, followed by an Existential Moment, in which we are invited to consider that there might be a touch of wolf in us all.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, as the two teenage girls in whose custody I saw the film explained, when I asked them what they thought all the blather was about. Red Riding Hood, they told me kindly but firmly, is a Twilight romance by any other name, and all attempts at plot, theme or character merest ballast. (Come to think of it, what brings Gary Oldman into the picture in that terribly purple cassock, waving his arms and gassing on about family duty?)
The girls had it right. RRH is all about Red being fought over by two hotties -- Max Irons and Shiloh Fernandez, leading with their muscled chests and their hair gel. One of them will turn out to have the blood of a wild beast coursing through his veins, thus creating a dilemma for Red about whether to share bodily fluids.
Sound familiar? In sync with Stephenie Meyer and the Motion Picture Association of America, Hardwicke is far more jazzed by violence than she is by sex. Blood flows freely, cutting a fine contrast against pure white snow. Severed limbs lie demurely on the ground like outtakes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And there's some mild torture porn involving a metal elephant and, for poor Red, an iron mask of shame with donkey ears.
Expect no rolls in the hay, though; the female flesh is willing, but the manly spirit is prim. "I'll wait for you," sighs Red to her heroically abstaining lupine lover, wistful renunciation shining from her moistening eyes.
Oh please, I beg you, no sequel.