There’s always been a dark erotic current to the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale; in the earliest known versions, the Big Bad Wolf disguised as grandma orders the eponymous girl to take off her clothes, burn them, and climb into bed with him, whereupon he devours her. Symbolically, it’s a story about sexual conquest and the lurid temptations of the unknown more than about wild animals in the woods. So it’s no great surprise that in the post-Twilight era, with bookstores devoting entire sections to “supernatural romance” and film trying to catch up with the wave, someone did the math: Heavy symbolism plus equating sexually predatory wolf with sexy hot young people equals potential box-office gold.
Nor is it a surprise that the resulting film, Red Riding Hood, comes from Catherine Hardwicke, director of Thirteen and the first Twilight film, and noted obsessive when it comes to pretty people exploring their sexuality in ways that skip actual sex in favor of outsized emotions and occasional glowering. Her interpretation, scripted by Orphan screenwriter David Leslie Johnson, comes with a Twilight-ready love triangle and a Twilight-esque vapid heroine in the form of Amanda Seyfried. Growing up in a generic but lovely fantasy setting akin to that of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, Seyfried’s character has long been in love with woodcutter Shiloh Fernandez (reportedly Hardwicke’s second choice to play Twilight’s Edward Cullen). But Seyfried’s mother (a tragically underused Virginia Madsen) wants better things for her, and has brokered a marriage to blacksmith’s son Max Irons, who is moodily in love with Seyfried. Complicating all this: The village is plagued by a powerful werewolf, which also has designs on Seyfried. To top things off, Gary Oldman plays the fanatical, Bible-thumping leader of a team of werewolf-hunters who have designs on it in turn.
There’s a great deal of campy overstatement to Red Riding Hood. Some of it, like the vivid colors, overripe Brothers Grimm-like set and costume design, lush woodsy setting, and aggressively active camera work, at least adds visual interest. Some of it is gratingly unnecessary, like the attempt to shoehorn in elements of the original fairy tale via a bunch of business involving Julie Christie as Seyfried’s grandmother, or the thuddingly unsubtle political commentary seen in Oldman’s insistence that the villagers sacrifice their privacy and freedoms in the name of security and religious purity. But mostly, the overheated script and the overheated romance just feels like Twilight redux. The main difference is that while the Twilight films strive for straight-faced grimness, Red Riding Hood often verges on outright florid hilarity. It isn’t laughing at itself, but that needn’t stop the audience.