Andy Bockelman: ‘Red Riding Hood’ wraps itself in thoughtful tone

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

'Red Riding Hood'

2.5 out of 4 stars

100 minutes

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons.

In its many previous incarnations, the villain of “Red Riding Hood” has been described in varying sizes. Somehow, phrases like “What big ears you have…” and “What big eyes you have…” seem more fitting when we’re talking about a creature the size of a Clydesdale, but that doesn’t make it much more frightening.

What is scary is the mistrustful nature of the people that he threatens.

In the medieval village of Daggerhorn, the residents have lived in fear for generations. A werewolf has terrorized their community for years, and although they have managed to keep the animal at bay, their dread has never diminished.

Young woman Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) wants nothing more than to escape the oppression and elope with her poor but devoted woodcarver lover Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) rather than follow through with the marriage her parents (Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen) have arranged with Henry (Max Irons), a blacksmith from the town’s most prominent family.

But, when her sister is found slaughtered, a new wave of anti-wolf vigilance sweeps through Daggerhorn, attracting the attention of the land’s most famous soldier against the forces of darkness, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), who warns residents that they’re in even greater danger than they could have imagined.

And, though she is just as concerned as the rest of the villagers, Valerie’s terror spikes to new levels when she realizes the wolf is after her and will not let up while the Blood Moon is in the sky.

Seyfried’s wide-eyed visage is put to good use as a character of centuries-old folklore who’s never had much of a live-action depiction. Between being dressed in the trademark crimson cloak and the rest of the period costume, she looks ideal as the young maiden, even if the age modification raises some eyebrows.

Note: There’s a reason they don’t call this “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Fernandez and Irons fall all over each other as adversaries fighting for her lovely hand, neither of them looking like much of a catch in terms of brainpower.

Well, a girl only has so many options in this era …

Oldman is in fine form as Solomon, a holier-than-thou fear-monger in a fuschia tunic, who quickly homes in on Valerie as the cause for the wolf’s presence and promptly harangues her accordingly. Small wonder from a guy who claims to have killed his own wife when she fell prey to a werewolf and keeps silver embedded in his fingernails just in case.

But, his digits are more prominently used to point to anyone within Daggerhorn that could be hiding a lycanthropic identity, which by all indications could be Peter, Henry, the local priest (Lukas Haas), Valerie’s soon-to-be mother-in-law (Christine Willes) or even her own mother or grandmother, with Madsen and Julie Christie perfect casting choices to look like Seyfried. Of course, there is the exception of their contact lens-tinted eyes differing from Valerie’s baby blues.

Take note.

This version of the classic story isn’t so much the period horror flick it’s intended to be as it is a whodunit with a supernatural theme.

David Leslie Johnson’s script genuinely keeps us guessing to the very end, suspecting even the most ancillary characters as Solomon’s influence turns Daggerhorn into a society too much like those during the days of the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism, a feeling helped along by numerous stalking camera shots taken from behind trees, around corners and other good hiding places among the amazing set design.

Although the material is reminiscent of “Hoodwinked!,” “The Village,” or the comparable “The Company of Wolves,” there’s another movie that’s lurking in the background. The love triangle at the hub seems awfully familiar, as director Catherine Hardwicke transports the atmosphere of her own “Twilight” back a few hundred years, with one of many similarities being that each film’s heroine has a father played by Burke.

While there are no vampires to muck things up, the clumsy sexuality of Bella, Edward and Jacob is handled no better played out by Valerie, Peter and Henry, as an embarrassingly bad festival scene — complete with Seyfried trying to act like a stripper while wearing a dirndl — almost upends the entire movie until thankfully, our lupine friend crashes the party.

“Red Riding Hood” isn’t all that scary considering its dark premise and presentation, but the deliciously stylish look of Daggerhorn adds some needed bite to its rather dull inhabitants.

It may be more of a nibble than anything else, but at least when Valerie utters, “What big teeth you have…” it doesn’t seem so laughable.

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