Red Riding Hood, a reimagining of that classic tale Little Red Riding Hood, is right smack in the middle of the recent onslaught of live-action fairy tale-derived films featuring star-crossed teenage lovers thrust unceremoniously into the extremes of adult situations. Director Catherine Hardwicke, fresh off of Twilight, does what she seems to do best, which is to focus on the emotional ups and downs of said teenagers while painting a lush backdrop for them the play in; unfortunately, the context here is hokier than in any of the director's previous work. Perhaps the problem lies with screenwriter David Leslie Johnson, who, in this version of the fairy tale, establishes the folklore by pivoting between two central themes. First, he sets the rules -- werewolves can only be created during the red blood moon, and if someone is bitten by the wolf during this time they turn into one -- and second, he transforms the tale into a whodunit mystery tinged by religious ideology.
The story centers on the medieval village of Daggerhorn, where Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) plans to run away with her childhood friend, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), in order to avoid an arranged marriage to the handsome blacksmith Henry (Max Irons). Their plans are put on hold, though, when Valerie's sister is slaughtered by a werewolf that's been terrorizing the village for years. Enter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a famed beast hunter, who vows to help the villagers kill the wolf and avenge the deaths. Solomon's arrival, however, brings unintended consequences, and as the death toll rises with each full moon, Valerie discovers she has a unique connection to the wolf -- one that inexorably draws them together, making her both suspect and bait.
Amanda Seyfried, with her doe eyes and angelic face, is innocently luminous, with a subtle sexuality that is rare and welcome. She portrays Valerie as the sweetly corruptible Red Riding Hood with such earnest consistency that at times it feels like she's carrying the entire film, especially when it teeters into ridiculous territory. Shiloh Fernandez complements Seyfried well with his brooding demeanor, but Max Irons comes off somewhat bland as the wealthy competitor for Valerie's heart. The tepid romance screams of a poor man's Bella/Edward/Jacob love triangle.
The film boasts an impressive supporting cast, including Virginia Madsen as Valerie's vapid mother with a dark secret and veteran actress Julie Christie as the ambiguous grandmother. But it's Gary Oldman, playing an over-the-top caricature of a fire-and-brimstone church leader, who brings some declamatory showmanship to an otherwise bland supporting cast. He's delightful to watch, and along with Seyfried, helps to elevate the film beyond what could easily have been a made-for-TV creature feature.
Visually, Red Riding Hood is stunning. Vancouver serves as the backdrop for this dark fairytale with lush, vibrant colors, sweeping shots of the snow-covered (if not occasionally gauzy) mountain tops, and ethereal light streaming through the pines to illuminate the dreary medieval village -- Hardwicke has a production design background, after all. However, with sporadic action and bad dialogue, the story devolves into a soapy melodrama with a not-so-surprising ending that screams banality. Still, Red Riding Hood is delightfully indulgent and might benefit monetarily from the vacuum created as fans wait with baited breath for the next installment of the Twilight Saga.