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Red Riding Hood (2011)

Red Riding Hood

a review by Nalini Haynes

OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?! Red Riding Hood only has 5.2 stars on IMDB! It totally should have HEAPS MOAR. Red Riding Hood, and THIS version in particular, received special mention today in my Archetypes & Imagery class so I had to watch it. I ADORE this movie.

Amanda Seyfried is Valerie, aka Red Riding Hood. Although I loved Mama Mia I was initially ambivalent about Amanda in the key protagonist’s role but she kinda grew on me. With all the rewatches. And the karaoke.  What can I say? My guilty secret is out, I have no street cred left.

So anyway, I started watching Red without prejudging Miss Breathy and Big-Eyes even though she’s still not my favourite leading lady. Valerie is in love with Peter the woodcutter (Shiloh Fernandez) – is anyone else thinking Peter and the Wolf here? – while Henry the blacksmith (Max Irons), is Valerie’s arranged affianced. Valerie is ready to run away with Peter but the bell tolls. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for Lucy, Valerie’s older sister, who was in love with Henry but couldn’t have him. A werewolf killed Lucy so the villagers, full of Dutch courage, set out to slay the wolf only to suffer another loss: Henry’s father is killed when he and Henry are alone in the cave together.

The next day heralds the arrival of Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), part Spanish Inquisitor, part werewolf-hunter. Solomon tells the village the wolf they killed was not the were that had been terrorising the village for two generations. The hunt is on: the wolf is someone in the village.

Red Riding Hood is part whodunnit, part romance and part social comment as the villagers sell their souls to protect their loved ones and turn on one another. The reason Red Riding Hood was particularly referenced in class is its adherence to the hero’s journey tropes; Red is an excellent example of CROSSING THE THRESHOLD where the hero leaves the ordinary world and enters into an unknown region. You don’t get much more unknown than the forest that surrounds Valerie’s village.

In terms of gendered roles, Red is somewhat problematic. Valerie is in love with Peter and has been for ten years so her parents essentially sell her to the highest bidder ‘for her own good.’ The menz are woodcutters and blacksmiths while the women are – what? I’m not sure. Housewives presumably. [Not impressed.]

As a child Valerie was sent to the creek to fetch water alone. Running off to play with Peter, Valerie traps and kills a rabbit; somehow this is taken to infer she has something dark inside her. Seriously? No-one eats meat in this movie? A child who has grown up in a rural area hasn’t seen her elders slaughtering animals? OMG HEADDESK. If it’s ok for a male to slaughter an animal, it’s ok for a girl; this should be seen as laudable life skills NOT SOMETHING DARK.

Valerie’s grandmother (Julie Christie) looks VERY YOUNG for a grandmother of a young adult, presumably thanks to artificial intervention plus makeup because the actor was 70 when this movie was made. Presumably living rough in the country treats women as kindly as Hollywood beauticians. Grandmother lives alone in the forest while everyone else cowers in the village afraid of the werewolf but the villagers accept this as normal; I’m not sure if this is kudos to a kick-ass Gran or a bit of a hole.

The young women fit the various stereotypes; this is a mixed bag. There is the good friend and the bitchy wannabe. What was most difficult and, I felt, left somewhat unresolved, was the girl willing to sell her body and her friend; her cause was good but she was robbed of her goal. I felt she was punished for her actions without sufficient exploration of her motives.

Irrespective of the gender issues, I really enjoyed this movie. In fact now I’ve written a gender analysis I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much. The minion also loves epic mythical archetype-type movies so when he reads this review I suspect he’ll want me to watch Red Riding Hood again. With him. Tragic.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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