While it is easy to fall back on rhetoric and label things as the worst, or call something terrible, the truth is that most of the time it is just hyperbole. To be the worst at something, especially as a film, you almost have to work at it. Things need to go badly on almost every level from the story to the editing, and even really bad movies usually have a few redeeming qualities. It has been five days since I watched Red Riding Hood, and I still can’t find a single thing to really compliment it on.
To put it simply, this movie is not just bad, it is painfully bad. It is so bad that it is not “so bad it’s good”, it is just bad. There isn’t even a campy level of enjoyment to be taken from this. The acting is terrible–which is partly a result of the ridiculous script and weird camera angles–the plot is generic and makes little sense, and the overall package is an endurance test because the movie is about 30 minutes longer than it needs to be.
This film is also a blatant rip off of the Twilight series, and it takes everything from that series and does it much worse. Let that sink in for a minute. The Twilight films are not exactly high art, but they have found a niche that loves them passionately. You don’t even need to like the franchise to see that people buy into the world the Twilight films create, and the fans relate to the characters. Red Riding Hood takes those ideas and blatantly exploits them, and it does so badly.
It would be easy to place all the blame on the director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, The Nativity Story)—and she deserves plenty, and I would be cool if she took her bags of money and decided to just, ya know, retire or maybe direct dinner theater or something—but this movie is simply a mess from the conceptual level on up.
It feels like several executives in Hollywood decided that they wanted to cash in on the Twilight cash cow, and so they just put together pieces that they thought would work, but they never really got what made Twilight what it is. To be fair, that is a difficult thing to nail down to begin with, but this film is designed to exploit, not entertain.
You have the innocent, but worldly lead actress, you have the love triangle with two male models fighting over her, throw in the supernatural side, then mix. They even hired the director of the original Twilight movie just to top it off. The result is an epic disaster.
To Grandma’s House
The plot takes on the original fable of Little Red Riding Hood, who went through the woods to bring food to her sick grandmother. Along the way she meets the big bad wolf who wants to eat her. The wolf hides at the grandmother’s house and pretends to be the grandma, but before the wolf can eat her, a woodsman appears and kills it. Numerous versions of that story exist, but that is the primary storyline.
The movie Red Riding Hood has a grandmother that lives in the woods, a girl that wears a red clock, and a wolf of sorts, but the similarities end there.
In this version, Little Red Riding Hood is a girl named Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who lives in a small village called Daggerhorn that has been plagued by the curse of a werewolf for years. Valerie is in love with a woodcutter named Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her mother Suzette (Virginia Madsen) wants her to marry a local blacksmith named Henry (Max Irons), because apparently, blacksmiths are way cooler than woodcutters.
The village has long had to deal with a local werewolf that strikes during full moons, but this moon is different, it is a red moon, something that happens once every few decades. And how does a moon become a red moon? If you are into science in any way, you might want to skip this part. A red moon—which is a moon that actually takes on a red hue—is when the red planet of Mars aligns with it somehow. This is never really made clear, but for whatever reason, during a red moon, a werewolf bite that would normally kill instead turns the snack into a werewolf themselves.
Valerie and Peter are planning to rebel and leave the security of their wolf infested town and throw caution to the wind so the woodcutter and the peasant can defy everyone and be together. Again, it is never really explained why this would be bad, but you just have to go with it. Their plans are disrupted when Valerie’s sister Lucy is murdered by the wolf.
The townspeople get drunk and go a’huntin’ but the local priest calls for backup, and soon—impossibly soon, like within a day—the famed witch and wolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) appears to take charge of hunting the wolf, who he tells people is a person during the days. Oh, and he brings a giant metal elephant with him that he sticks people in and lights a fire underneath to torture them. So basically they drag a metal elephant that has to weigh several hundred pounds through the woods because they really love their torture. It was at this point in the movie that I really knew I was in trouble.
After the townsfolk think they have killed the wolf they begin to dance until the werewolf mercifully appears and stops the dance scene that teetered dangerously close to Bollywood-esque levels, by massacring several people in the town to show them who is boss. During the attack, the wolf speaks to Valerie and tells her that it wants her to leave town and join it. As Valerie is the only one that can hear it, she is inevitably accused of being a witch. This entire plot thread is later rendered pointless, by the way. Once you learn who the wolf is and what its powers are, you will realize that trying to force her to leave in this fashion–by threatening the locals–is like trying to steal a nuclear bomb to blow a vault while robbing a bank.
The rest of the film deals with Valerie trying to piece together who the wolf is in order to save herself, and the people of the town.
On paper the plot is not nearly as bad as it sounds. The mystery of who the wolf is, is handled with the subtlety of a hammer hitting you in the head, and the film is constantly trying to fool you—so much so that it gets somewhat annoying. There are also several instances where you think you have it figured out, but in truth what appeared to be a little hint was just terrible acting or a deliberate misdirection by one of the many cast members or the director, all of whom seem to define acting differently than most of us.
The mystery will fool many because there is nothing really firm to latch onto, and the film never gives you the clues necessary to solve it. When it explains things at the end, everything makes sense, but that is because they are explaining things that you couldn’t have known. Even if you do guess, odds are you won’t care, and the big surprise is just one more thing that delays the end credits.
Team Brooding Guy vs Team Pretty Boy
This film tries to be a love story, but the acting is laughably bad, which makes the romantic scenes almost appear to be a parody of real romances. The worst culprit of this is Valerie’s love interest, Peter, played by Shiloh Fernandez (Skateland, United States of Tara), who is doing his best Robert Pattinson impression throughout the movie. He is the village “bad boy”, and always appears to be posing for the camera–it is positively unnatural. Fernandez is a model turned actor turned brooding block of wood. It is hard to tell where his talents end and Hardwicke’s direction begins, but the guy is nearly unlikable.
Fernandez channels Pattinson, and does so badly. Pattinson isn’t exactly the best actor in history, and Fernandez is a pale impression of him. Every time he reads a line, it feels like he is forcing the words out of his throat. It is so consistent in its terribleness, that I have to imagine that it is due to the direction of Hardwicke and the script more than his own acting ability. In another movie his performance would be bad enough to sink the film, but he has so much company at the bottom that he is just one problem of many.
On the other corner of the love triangle is Max Irons (The Runaway, Dorian Gray) as Henry. If the character of Peter can best be described as brooding, Henry can best be described as yearning. The character is in love with Valerie, or so we are told, and despite the fact that he is a decent guy that tries to protect the woman he loves and give her a better life, she spurns him for the bad boy. Sound familiar, Twilight fans?
The triangle is a tired cliché to begin with, but the acting, direction and dreadful writing make it painful to watch. Of course, the total lack of chemistry between any of the stars doesn’t help much either.
It Takes a Village…
There is not a single strong performance in this movie, despite some amazing talent in front of the lens. Seyfried has proven to be a decent actress, but she sleepwalks through this film. Her suitors Fernandez and Irons are both acting on a different level, and not in a good way, but Billy Burke (Twilight, Drive Angry) seems to have been tranquilized throughout the movie. This is almost certainly the result of Hardwicke’s direction, as the character does have a few moments of decent screentime, but for the majority of the movie he is distractingly bad, and that seems to be a bizarrely intentional decision from Hardwicke.
And then there is Gary Oldman, who seems to try to flesh out the Inquisitor-like Priest at first, but about halfway through realizes that the film is doomed and just phones the rest in. If a director can’t get a decent performance out of Gary Oldman, one of the best actors working today, something is horribly wrong. There is scene when Valerie is accused of being a witch, and it is so overacted by everyone, including Oldman, that you half expect them to bring out a scale and a duck to weigh Seyfried.
To be fair, it is hard to decide how much really is down to the bad acting, and how much it is down to the poor script and awkward camera angles Hardwicke keeps using. It can’t be easy to deliver a speech about love with a camera placed inches from your face.
What more is there to say? It is not fair to make grandiose claims like it is one of the worst movies ever, but it is easily the worst movie of the year that has a budget of over $40 million. I am tempted to forgive the actors and just assume that the troubled script and off-putting directing are to blame, but that won’t be an easy sell.
Beyond the shoddy acting and the ridiculous dialogue, the worst thing about this movie is that it drags. Even with all the issues, none are more unforgivable than the fact that the movie is just boring. At 120 minutes, cutting off about 30-40 minutes would have been a mercy and made the movie go from terrible to just forgettable.
Oh, and the music is off as well. It is a mix of classic and modern that is jarring and never meshes. But that is a minor concern. The visuals are a mixed bag, and there are some lush looking sets, but Hardwicke digs into her bag of clichés and digs out scenes–like Seyfried running over a white backdrop with a flowing red gown–which border on silly. That, by the way, is possibly the only scene in the entire film that actually feels like it was filmed outdoors, even though 50-75 percent of the movie is set outside.
Red Riding Hood just takes itself so damned seriously, which makes it so much worse. The best thing about this movie is that it has helped expand my vocabulary regarding the word bad. The film is atrocious, dreadful, fallacious, substandard, grody and several other descriptions that come thanks to thesaurus.com. It is best avoided.