You are forgiven if you sense a certain 2011 resonance in these scenes.

Red Riding Hood

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Red Riding Hood tries, as all fairy tales must, to enchant the audience in some magical way that makes them forget where they are. On a scale of terrible to terrific, this one falls somewhere south of the middle, not great but not entirely a lost cause. Parents be seriously warned that the famous wolf is a triumph of screen terror likely to be far too much for your young, and maybe for you too. Oddly, in a movie of inspired visuals, the story itself is a quite dull soap opera.
            To give blame where blame is due, Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) directed; David Johnson wrote the story, based very loosely on the tale by the brothers Grimm. A little understanding of Mr. Johnson's plot will serve you well. A medieval village lives in terror of a wolf who has been held at bay by animal sacrifices offered him by the villagers. If I tell you that the wolf comes out with the Blood Moon and that a bitten victim - if he recovers - becomes a werewolf, you have nearly the whole plot.
            Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a handsome woodcutter, but she has been promised by her parents to Henry (Max Irons, and yes, you'll be hearing more from Jeremy Irons' son), a blacksmith with family money. When the werewolf kills Valerie's sister, the villagers summon Solomon (Gary Oldman), a werewolf connoisseur who arrives with a retinue of armed and armored guards pulling an enormous iron elephant whose bottom is a fireplace beneath a compartment for eliciting confessions from victims stashed in the smoke chamber.
            Solomon announces that the werewolf, who resumes his human appearance with the passing of the Blood Moon, is indeed a fellow resident, one of them to be exact. In the ensuing investigation of the villagers, Solomon, whose wisdom is without doubt questionable, plays on the superstitions and prejudices of his constituents in his hunt for the wolf among them. You are forgiven if you sense a 2011 resonance in these scenes.
            And now to the good part. Valerie goes over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house only infrequently but when she does, guess who grandma is: the ever luminous Julie Christie who is thoroughly convincing as a suspect. The sets and landscape (it was filmed in British Columbia) are grand. Village and villagers are a marvelous cross between an Advent calendar and a Peter Breughel painting come to life. So effective is this sudden vitality in an Old Master scene that we are startled every time the villagers speak in contemporary colloquialisms. Henry's "Okay" pierces the medieval air. My earnest suggestion for the sequel: rehire everyone connected to the sets and cinematography who made the movie gorgeous to watch. Then instruct all young actors to keep their mouths shut. We can figure out what's happening in a fairy tale without having to hear "Peter, Get me outta here."


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