Movie Review: 'Red Riding Hood'

Filed under: Movies

Rated IFFY for Kids 13-15

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this teen twist on "Little Red Riding Hood" from "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke is a romance-and-horror mix that's not for young kids. While there are no overt love scenes, there are several scenes of the main couple kissing, groping, and breathing heavily in each other's presence; at one point, the lead boy is about to undress his girl but is interrupted. But the sexuality pales in comparison with the violence, which is frequent and disturbing and features dismembered limbs, torture, and a high body count. What's more, the movie's overall message of "love conquers all" is buried beneath the dangerous-for-teens idea that if you love someone, you should be willing to leave your family and home to be with them.

What to watch out for

  • Messages: Many of the movie's messages are focused on relationships, and they aren't necessarily positive for adolescents. Valerie says things like "I'd do anything to be with you," and Peter affirms that they should run away, leaving everyone and everything behind to be together. That's not a healthy message for teens already inundated with messages that Twilight-level obsessiveness equals the pinnacle of romance. Then there's the wolf, who, when revealed, expresses a desire to have a partner in using the vicious power to kill, terrorize, and reign over people.
  • Role models: Many of the characters act selfishly -- even Valerie, who is willing to leave everyone behind for love one moment but willing to sacrifice herself the next. Father Solomon means well, but his methods are ruthless; Father Auguste tries to save some of his parishioners, but he's too late; Henry and Peter act courageously some times and selfishly others, but as a whole are genuinely trying to help Valerie.
  • Violence: The werewolf attacks the village many times, killing dozens of citizens. People are dismembered, decapitated, stabbed, and tortured to death. The violence is edited in a way that minimizes some of the more graphic, gorier deaths, but the audience still sees many people get killed, including a man whose arm is ripped off, a young man who's burned alive, and a few characters who are killed by loved ones or associates because of their connection to the wolf.
  • Sex: Valerie and Peter flirt as children and, as young adults, touch and kiss quite passionately several times, occasionally saying sexually charged things to each other. At one point he kisses her so fiercely that he picks her up; she wraps her legs around him, and he says, "I could eat you up." In another scene, they get horizontal, and she asks "Don't you want me?" which prompts him to start unfastening her top, until they're interrupted. Valerie also hugs Henry and gives him a kiss on the cheek, and Valerie and Prudence dance provocatively while Peter dances with Rose. A young woman offers her body in exchange for her brother's release, but she's refused.
What's the Story?

Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) lives in a remote Italian village that's routinely terrorized by a werewolf. The villagers make do by sealing up their homes and leaving the wolf sacrificial animals during the full moon, but every now and then, the wolf kills. One morning, Valerie is told she's to marry Henry (Max Irons), the well-off blacksmith's son, instead of her heart's desire, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), the hardworking woodcutter she's been friends with since childhood. Valerie and Peter decide to run away together -- but then the wolf strikes, killing Valerie's sister and prompting the town cleric, Father Auguste (Lukas Haas), to send for renowned wolf-hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), who imposes a strict, ruthless rule over the town. When the wolf appears and speaks directly to Valerie, everyone believes she's a witch who needs to be sacrificed to the wolf. As Henry and Peter work together to save the girl they both love, the entire town turns on itself with suspicion.

Is It Any Good?

Director Catherine Hardwicke clearly loves exploring the angsty trials of adolescence. Her movies are a catalog of teens in transition from childhood to adulthood. Unfortunately, it seems that her two earliest films, "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown," were her best. Hardwicke's mistake here was to pick such a Twilight-like story -- gothic romance, love triangle, supernatural threat -- for her first post-Edward and Bella film. The cast is full of talented actors -- particularly Seyfried, Oldman, and Julie Christie as the grandmother -- but the result is still a combination of broody young lovers panting at each other while people all around them are killed.

It's doubtful that Hardwicke would expect audiences to heckle the characters, but that's exactly what's going to happen -- and in some ways it makes this predictable, overwrought horror-romance more enjoyable. Between the over-the-top performances, Fernandez and Irons' nostril-flaring looks of rage and jealousy, and the laughable climax, it's hard not to chuckle at unintentionally funny moments. Sure, there are some decent sweeping shots of the wintry, mountainous landscapes, but once the wolf starts talking, the movie feels like some bizarre, awful mash-up of "Twilight" and "Narnia" that will only be liked by young teens who crave a couple of cute boys to swoon over and some good kissing scenes. For the rest of us, it's just not enough.

This review of "Red Riding Hood" was written by Sandie Angulo Chen.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.