Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday at the Movies #44 Red Riding Hood

This movie came out the same time as Beastly, which I talked about last week, and my brain has always kept them linked. Both visually stunning, both fairy tale retellings with definite individual flavors, and both didn't quite do it for me.

Red Riding Hood is a difficult one to describe. Though there are differences, if you're familiar with the Brothers Grimm version and can reframe it as a werewolf story, that's pretty much the essentials. I can't fault the cast, though I can't remember most of the actors' names one week after viewing, and hadn't been sure until the closing credits if the heroine, Valerie, were played by Amanda Seyfried (which was correct) or Heather Graham (or was it somebody else I was suspecting?) and character names, apart from Valerie, her love interest, Peter (get it?) and antagonist Father Solomon. Which is about what I need, as it's pretty straightforward.

There's a werewolf attacking people in the town where our story takes place, a medievallish European burg. Usually, the animal sacrifices pacify the wolf, but apparently not this time. Something to do with the moon. Valerie has loved Peter from childhood but is promised to marry Some Other Dude, who was apparently her dead sister's beloved and sister may have done herself in over this prospect. At any rate, there is angst. Secrets involving paternity of someone no longer with us and the wolf is a constant threat when it's dark, which it usually appears to be.

The visuals and atmosphere are the real stars of this movie, the dark overall tone reinforcing the threat of the wolf attacks and the mounting paranoia amongst the villagers, and the stark black, white and gray tones are definitely inspiring for the artistically inclined, including my art crush, Michelle Ward. Which may make it fitting that my memories of this movie tend toward the sketchy. The visuals were gorgeous, and though there is violence, the gore is left to the imagination, which can be far more horrifying as it lets us imagine what isn't shown.

I find myself remembering more what I wish the movie had been. I did like Valerie and Peter's relationship but wanted more of it and the nice surprise that Valerie's fiance is a decent guy, willing to step aside when he accepts that Valerie truly loves Peter. Beyond that, he's the one who suggests he and Peter work together to rescue an imperiled Valerie. I would have liked to have seen that unlikely friendship develop and how the three of them would relate to each other as young adults. Also more of the issues with Valerie's family as well.

Unfortunately, other issues kept me from having the sort of experience I'd hoped with Red Riding Hood. The character of Father Solomon, the werewolf-catcher, came across as one dimensional. Priest in a horror movie? I called it right off that he'd turn out to be stupid or evil, and no surprises there, alas. By the time he departs the story, we've already heard him confess to killing a woman, seen him kill one of his African associates, and torture a mentally challenged person because obviously that person's condition meant they needed killing. Sorry, Father Solomon, I have no sympathy for you.

A festival scene could have been plucked right out of generic medieval burb and plopped into a modern night club, complete with girl on girl dirty dancing to attract the eye of a desired male, and did take me out of the story for its duration.

The identity of the werewolf could have been handled better, and more backstory on how that person became afflicted could have made for a richer experience, though I can't fault the acting in the scene where the wolf's motivations are disclosed. Valerie, as well, proved to be a strong heroine in the end, insisting on doing what was right no matter the cost, but again, I wanted more. I don't normally grade movies, but the best way I can describe my experience with this movie is to give the visuals an A+ and the content a C.

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