Neo-gothic spin on old tale

2011-03-21 00:00

LITTLE Red Riding Hood is perhaps one of the most enduring tales in European folklore. The confrontation between an innocent girl and a wicked wolf is spiced with sexual innuendo and layers of deception. Camouflaged for children, it warns us against naively trusting people, more specifically the dangers of trusting men and their motives.

This adaptation of the tale is really an origin story that fleshes out the basic elements that we are familiar with. A wolf plagues a medieval village, killing one of the inhabitants. We learn through a sinister man of the church (Gary Oldman), that the wolf is in fact one of the people in the village, evolving during full moon into lycanthropic form. The stakes are upped when we are told that the blood-red moon signifies that those who are bitten will become like the werewolf. Understandably the villagers begin turning on each other, as they do in The Crucible.

The story, as seen through the eyes of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), explains how she receives her riding hood from her grandmother and how some of the more familiar aspects of the story come to be. Most importantly though, the film introduces two suitors: one is the poor but loved Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and the other is a respected provider. The question is whom does she trust? Can she even trust herself?

The film does not play out in typical horror fashion; rather it becomes a little like a whodunnit in the midst of a love story. It keeps one guessing and credit to the director, Catherine Hardwicke, for paying homage to Hitchcock in her use of the strong point-of-view shot that often deceives us as to its origin. This is an educated director with a deft eye for using the camera. The neo-Gothic aesthetic of the visuals paints the ever-so-beautiful players as haunted souls in a world where beauty and happiness are in tension. Could this be an echo of our contemporary fascination with the dreams, nightmares and deceptions of celebritydom?

Red Riding Hood is a modest film that is well crafted. It falls neatly within the genre provided by the Twilight series where vampires and werewolves are the new chic, possibly because it has the same director as the first movie. Determined by mainstream expectation, the film sacrifices the more profound and shocking interpretations for a comfortable resolution. Still, it got me thinking, and that’s what you want from your audience.

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