I should have listened. On two different train rides to NYC, separated by two weeks, I read two different reviews of the movie Red Riding Hood. The first was a New York Times arts section review on the weekend of the film’s release and, to my surprise, the review wasn’t as harsh as I anticipated it to be. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a favorable review either. Yesterday I read a review in the most recent issue of The New Yorker on yet another train ride down to NYC for a committee meeting. The second review was much harsher and, frankly, more on target.

Yet I saw the movie anyway.

Stupid me. I like to pride myself on going to movies that interest me, regardless of the critics’ takes. I don’t like to be subject to another person’s limited take on a film. I’ll be my own judge, thank you very much!

I was intrigued in part by the untested cast of actors in this film — sure, Amanda Seyfried has had some recent box office attention following her so-so performance on the HBO program Big Love (a series well-worth watching) as the eldest child in the polygamist family. But, there were no ‘big names’ of the stereotypical variety to draw my preemptive cynicism.

There was also the appeal of a contemporary take on the centuries-old legend of the wolf. “How will they spin it?” I asked myself, a question I couldn’t quite avoid. And then there was the sensually pleasing visual aspects of the film, best highlighted in the movie’s several in-theatre, television and online trailers. As a photographer, my eye is always captured by colorful sets and creative cinematography.

All of these things proved inconsequential, as the film — in large part — flopped.

The screenplay was all but abhorrent, it would have been better written by my worst undergraduate student. The acting was the most listless performance I have ever seen in an entire ensemble. No one stood out, because everyone was mediocre. The soundtrack (another favorite of mine in films) was predictable and the editing was unimaginative. And the errors in common-sensical fact are too numerous to name.

Take but one example: was the village Catholic? A mourning woman visits the house of a deceased young girl and makes the sign of the cross. The town religious leader is called “Father,” as is the invited guest-of-honor, who is addressed as “his eminence,” yet also bears the title “Father.” This second would-be priest has two children and a deceased wife (yeah, he murdered her, but ad majorem Dei gloriam). And several characters make reference to the “pope” or the “holy see” at some point in the film. What the heck is going on? Very, very bad research — some intern could have ‘googled’ these things and come up with a more coherent backstory.

This film will no doubt be grouped with M. Night Shyamalan’s (much, much better) film, The Village. There are several details and scenes in Red Riding Hood that eerily echo Shyamalan’s The Village in far inferior ways. A rural village, a monster that needs to be appeased, the sensual yet dangerous color red.  What is lacking from Red Riding Hood is the rich social commentary that is conveyed in Shyamalan’s brilliant thriller. Many were disappointed with Shyamalan’s story because it, ultimately, proved to critique society in a way that dissolved the frightening elements of fantasy in a bath of real-life fear.

The mythic return to a ‘simpler time’ reminiscent of Rousseau’s take on society implicit in The Village is replaced with a less-intellectual, mildly violent and thoroughly sexual narrative in Red Riding Hood.

I looked very hard for redemptive qualities in this film, wondering whether or not my time and money had been completed wasted. I’m not sure that I can find a corollary that satisfies my critical interests. I will say that the complexity of the original legend of the werewolf is fecund for more creative expression of the human experience and the perhaps baser fantasies of our everyday life. Unfortunately, Red Riding Hood, the film I wanted to badly to be better than I anticipated, failed miserably at delivering something even close to a laudable attempt.

How might the tale of Red Riding Hood be appropriated into a Christian narrative? Is there an evangelical undercurrent or theological truth to be unpacked in the story that continues to be told anew?

Now that is something that I could really sink my teeth into!

Photos: Warner Brothers Pictures

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