The folk tale made famous by The Brothers Grimm receives a new sexy makeover in Catharine Hardwicke's ('Twilight') 'Red Riding Hood.' Why exactly a legendary morality story would need such radical alterations is only one in a series of baffling questions in this latest feature aimed at the tween audience. The movie's absurd plot, written by David Johnson who also gave us 'Orphan' and is part of the writing team behind 'The Clash of the Titans' sequel, tries to meld two opposing genres the likes we haven't seen since the gothic B-features of the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, this horror melodrama is something I imagine even Roger Corman or Hammer Films passing on as too-convoluted even for their tastes.
After sweeping through the snowy mountains of who-knows-where and catching a glance of an undisclosed beautiful medieval castle — the filming took place inside a soundstage in Canada, go figure — the film opens with two children trapping a bunny and slitting its throat purely for fun. Did I mention the movie seems aimed at younger viewers? No matter, filmmakers avoid the whole serial-killer tendencies discussion anyhow by simply excusing it as a dark personality trait within our protagonist. That's right. The little blonde girl with the knife in one hand and a cute white bunny in the other is supposedly the story's hero, who ten years later suddenly transforms into Amanda Seyfried.
Donning the iconic red cape and hood, Seyfried proves she's not only capable of picking horrible scripts — 'Dear John' anybody? — but also capable of terribly nauseating acting. It's difficult to pinpoint her character because she's strong-willed and independent one minute, but then fragile and in need of rescue from a studly, strapping hunk, ofwhich by the way Seyfried is given two to choose from. The first is her betrothed husband Henry played by Max Irons, who basically musters up his best acting skills and still falls dreadfully short. And the second is the real love-interest Peter played by Shiloh Fernandez, who possesses an uncanny resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix if he were younger.
As if this were to somehow add depth to the main character, Seyfried is now caught in an embarrassing Harlequin-style love triangle. Who should she choose? The man who, according to her mother (Virginia Madsen), will provide her with a stable, comfortable, rewarding future and family, or the rebellious cool guy she'd much rather have hot, steamy, passionate sex with — I did mention this being targeted at tweens right? And let me remind our readers, when thinking about her future, Seyfried's choices are between a blacksmith and a woodcutter. Now, that's a tough cookie to crumble, right there. Between the two labor jobs, which one is more secure and won't suddenly disappear when the economy takes a nosedive?
Yeah, by this point I'm left with a permanent, indelible WTF question-mark on my face. And I'm only thirty minutes into the picture! There's still some ridiculous subplot about a CGI werewolf that kills villagers but has a thing for Seyfried. No, wait. This is supposed to be the main plot, being a so-called reimagining of "Little Red Riding Hood" and all. The preposterous romance angle is meant as the secondary focus. But then Gary Oldman cashes a paycheck as a corrupt priest with a pack of witch hunters and a storyline that completely goes nowhere. And why does grandma (Julie Christie) live outside the boundaries of the village knowing there's an evil vicious monster on the loose?
There's a great deal to pick apart in Hardwicke's 'Red Riding Hood,' which makes it an utter displeasure to watch. But I suppose if I could find any positives it would in the set design, photography and the musical score. The movie is pretty to look at, full of atmospheric dread, giving the impression we're watching a big-budgeted gothic music video. The score by Alex Heffes and Brian Reitzell only heightens and complements the visuals. It's a shame so much energy and time is spent on building suspense, setting expectations high for a wild, ravaging showdown between man and beast. But all we get in the end is no more exciting than a cute toddler wrestling a lovable puppy with a feather. Absolutely adorable, sure, but it doesn't make for much of a fantasy horror flick.
Being a newer release from a modestly-financed production, I half expected something a bit better from this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.40:1). Although many scenes are quite average, the transfer as a whole offers more hits than misses and most, I'm sure, will find it satisfying enough, excusing any drawbacks as the result of the intended photography.
Contrast is consistent though sways generally towards the lower end of the grayscale and often lacks a good deal of punch. Blacks appear affected by this, looking deep and true one minute and grayish dull in another, which tends to ruin depth and flatten the image somewhat. Delineation in the shadows can also suffer, regularly obscuring much of the background info during the many sequences with poor lighting. The amber-warm color palette, on the other hand, remains fixated with a Halloween-gothic blend of fiery orange and steely blues while vivid reds pop from the screen in nearly every scene.
The overall video is sharply detailed and well-defined, making most of the unique set design plainly visible, but there are also a few intrusions of softness and hazy blurriness in the mix.
In the audio department, 'Red Riding Hood' leaves a much better aftertaste with this rewarding DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Granted, the design's most impressive aspects comes from the gothic score collaboration of Alex Heffes and Brian Reitzell, which widens the soundstage rather nicely and keeps listeners engaged from beginning to end. But there are also several action scenes with excellent crisp details and extensive range while dialogue remains distinct and intelligible. Low bass packs a healthy oomph, though not far-reaching or very intense. Movement between the channels during these sequences is smooth and convincing, extending the soundfield for an enjoyable immersive effect. The rears also participate with minor musical bleeds and a few subtle atmospherics, making it surprisingly satisfying for a rather unsatisfying horror fantasy flick.
’Red Riding Hood’ debuts day-and-date with its DVD counterpart and carries over the one and only extra.
In 'Red Riding Hood,' Catherine Hardwicke attempts to modernize the legendary folk tale made famous by The Brothers Grimm with a sexy makeover. Starring Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman, the horror melodrama fails at entertaining viewers but succeeds at the baffling logic within a visually-arresting narrative. The Blu-ray debuts with good though far from stunning video but a better audio presentation. Supplements are weak and reserved for the two-disc combo pack, making this the version to skip.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.