Red Riding Hood – she’s not little anymore

Red Riding Hood (2011) by Catherine Hardwicke

That’s what I watched last night and am not even sure why (my movie habits are out of control these days probably because I am waiting for “Scream 4” – which opens today, finally). The trailer looked okay and I am always interested in how old legends/myths/fairy tales are being reproduced in out time and age. I guess that is a good reason.

What almost kept me from watching this was “From the director of Twilight.” I watched it, I didn’t like it. On the other hand, had the poster said “From the director of Thirteen” it would have been another story entirely and Catherine Hardwicke has made both these movies.

The original story has been changed: the wolf is now a werewolf and it terrorizes a whole village. The village in which Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) lives with her parents (Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen) and sister. Said sister is promptly the first victim in the movie. Valerie is devastated and the village people set out to kill the wolf. They kill something, too, unfortunately it is not the werewolf they had aimed for but just a common wolf. They are informed of this by Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a self-proclaimed expert who has killed a werewolf who then turned out to have been his wife. He has come to the village to help but turns out to be a despotic nuisance who spreads paranoia among the villagers and finally claims that Valerie is a witch because she can talk to the wolf. The wolf wants Valerie to come with him, which narrows the suspects down to Val’s two suitors – the man she loves, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), and the man she is supposed to marry, Henry (Max Irons).

Solomon sets a trap but things get jumbled and he is bitten by the beast which leads to his death as one of his men kills him, using the same reasoning Solomon has used as he killed the man’s brother, “A man bitten is a man cursed.”

Valerie meanwhile sets out to her grandmother’s (Julie Christie) to find out who the real beast is and kills him in the end. Only, her love is bitten by the werewolf in the final battle and becomes a werewolf. So, no happy ending.

The movie looked a little like The Brothers Grimm meets Twilight but that is not necessarily a bad thing since they are visually quite interesting. Unfortunately, the story did not make it into that realm since Hardwicke gave away the identity of the werewolf too early, at least if you’re observant you find out quite easily. The references to the old fairy tale are amusing and the changes thought through quite well. Yet, what remains of the fairy tale is the partriarchal narrative of men’s angst of female sexuality and thus Valerie remains a virgin. Marriage does not turn out to be all it promised and the killing is set into motion by infidelity. I came out of the movie a little confused and a little disappointed because on the surface it is a good movie, if you look closer the story is quite disturbing in it’s old-fashioned views and thus reminded me of the whole Twilight-franchise. It values the same hidden messages: no sex before marriage, man is beast, woman best remains a virgin, blah blah. I know that this is classic fairy tale narrative but we live in the year 2011. Would it have hurt to put in a little self-empowerment for women? Would it have hurt to not put in any lesbian titillation – that was as that totally out of place AND character? And would it have hurt to integrate people of color and not have them pose as “the other”?

There’s no doubt the movie has some good acting in it. Especially Julie Christie as grandmother is fantastic – a little new age but at that time and place with the underlying promise of witchcraft. Unfortunately, that does not make the underlying messages any less dangerous and old-fashioned.

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