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Send Twilight back a couple of centuries and make Edward Cullen poor instead of vampiric and you’ve got Red Riding Hood, Catherine Hardwicke’s update of the classic fairy tale and/or attempt to redeem herself to millions of Stephenie Meyer fans. With a proactive heroine this time, she nearly succeeds, even if you spend the entirety of the film noting parallels to Hardwicke’s bloodsucker blockbuster.
Here, the titular character is no longer referred to as an item of clothing but has a name: It’s Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), and she’s all grown up, torn between Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), the working-class dude she loves, and Henry (Max Irons), the rich guy she’s been betrothed to. But that’s not her only problem. Her sister has just been killed by a wolf, whom the locals think is a regular ol’ canine that they then kill.
But outsider Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, doing his best Anthony Hopkins) knows that the town is dealing with a werewolf and proceeds accordingly, suspecting every villager no matter how cherub-cheeked. (Seyfried and Irons — the latter a practical Robert Pattinson twin — certainly qualify. Fernandez, he’s a bit more angular and shady.)
Hardwicke, working from a humorless script by David Johnson (Orphan), fashions a passable young-adult thriller here, with lovely medieval costumes and set pieces. (Though how those overhead forest shots recall Twilight!) The action, unfortunately, is largely of the cheap-scares and quick-edits-to-confuse style, and things get dicey when the werewolf speaks.
But the focus is mainly and more interestingly on Valerie and her dilemmas, not only having to decide which man to marry, but suspecting them at various times of wolfitude and discovering that she does indeed have pretty close ties to the chatty beast. And Seyfried’s ‘Hood is strong, smart, and admirable, unlike a certain vampire-lover whose name rhymes with Fella. Julie Christie also has a juicy turn as Valerie’s kinda-strange grandmother.
The cape? It’s just a thing, nicely setting off Seyfried’s born-for-fairy-tales looks but otherwise inconsequential in this gothic whodunit.