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Movie Review

Valerie's village is going to the dogs.

Well, it's just going to one dog, really … but it's a big 'un, and it's never fetched a chew toy in its life. It supposedly lives in a nearby cave, the entrance to which is strewn with bones. And every full moon, the villagers leave out their best livestock for it to scarf down like so much kibble.

What does it eat when the moon isn't full? The villagers don't much care. After all, they've got their own lives to live beyond saying goodbye to the family goat.

Take Valerie, for instance. She's got loads of duties to attend to, from fetching water to picking flowers to … visiting her grandmother. And if that wasn't enough, she's preoccupied with matters of the heart. Read: She's smitten with smoldering bad-boy woodcutter, Peter, but she's stuck in an arranged engagement to handsome, rich, nice-guy Henry.

Brothers Grimm, meet Gossip Girl.

Valerie's on the verge of running away with her woodcutter when disaster strikes. Her sister is killed—murdered in a particularly wolfish way. The wolf (you've figured out that it's a werewolf by now, right?) has broken its age-old treaty with the village, and now the villagers are howling mad. The menfolk pick up their pitchforks and torches and storm the cave. And after a bloody confrontation, they return with the head of a fearsome, toothy, vicious …

What is that … a Chihuahua? Pomeranian?

No, no. Given another glance, the head looks quite wolfish, and the villagers figure their shaggy days of darkness are over. They put the head on a pike, break out the liquor and party like it's 1399.

Had these villagers bothered to look up "lycanthropy" on Wikipedia, they might've learned that killing a werewolf isn't so easy. First of all, such creatures only get all wolfy when the moon is full. The rest of the time, they look just like you and me. Or Peter or Henry. Or Grandmother.

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]

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Positive Elements

There's a whole lotta sacrificial love goin' on here. Peter loves Valerie—so much so that he's willing to give her up if that will make her happy with Henry. Henry also loves Valerie—so much so that he's willing to give her up if that will make her happy with Peter. Valerie loves Peter and kinda likes Henry … but she's beginning to suspect that either of them may turn into a snarling bloodthirsty beast when the moon is full—definitely a drawback, relationally speaking.

When Valerie actually meets the werewolf (whomever he or she is) and it asks her to come away with it (presumably so the thing can turn her into a werewolf, too), she agrees—not because she loves the beast, but because she loves her village. She doesn't want the werewolf to eat anyone else.

Spiritual Content

This werewolf is a spiritual monster of sorts. When it attacks, villagers flee to the church, because the beast cannot step on sanctified ground. When it tries, its paw gets burned as if set on fire. Note: The double church doors are festooned with an angel on one side, a wolf-like demon on the other. And when Valerie sees the thing in its human guise, she tells it, "There must be a god, because you are the devil."

A spiritual enemy requires a spiritual champion, and the village finds one in the form of traveling Father Solomon. The man is apparently part of the Christian clergy, and he always seems to wear a crucifix. To a soldier's cry that he's never seen such strength in a werewolf, Solomon responds, "God is stronger!" Solomon begins a house-to-house search for the beast, looking for incriminating evidence. The innocent, he says, have nothing to fear. But "if you're guilty, I swear by almighty God, you will be destroyed."

Solomon ultimately proves to be a horrible example of Christianity. He lusts after the village girls. (When one tries to bribe him by partly disrobing in front of him, it takes him an uncomfortably long time to turn her away.) He tosses a mentally impaired youth into an insidious torture device, believing the lad's lack of mental acuity is a sign of devil worship. (He calls his subsequent screams "songs of his love for Satan.") He accuses Valerie of being a witch and uses her as werewolf bait. And when a rescue attempt is made, Solomon takes action—winding up with blood, literally, on his hands.

Sexual Content

Valerie and Peter seem like they "know" each other quite well. Peter sometimes lays an unsurprised, unafraid Valerie into a bed of leaves or pile of hay; the two kiss and, in one scene, Peter begins to take off the top part of Valerie's dress. "Don't you want me?" she whispers when he hesitates. In what appears to be a fantasy, Valerie imagines having sex with Peter on a huge red cloak in the snow: Peter lies on top of her, and both appear to be naked. (We see them from the shoulders up.)

The original tale of "Little Red Riding Hood" is thought by some to be sexual in nature: Little Red is, in this interpretation, on the cusp of womanhood, with the red cloak symbolizing menstrual blood and the wolf representing those who would rob her of her chastity.

"It represents a dark animal nature which is close to sexuality," director Catherine Hardwicke said, according to MTV. "In the traditional story, the wolf cross-dresses and lures her into bed. That's pretty kinky right there! The wolf is the original tranny. What a kinky wolf! A granny tranny!"

Thus, the "Grandmother, what big eyes you have!" bed scene is depicted in the film as a dream with just a touch of incestuous lesbian insinuation. Elsewhere, Solomon calls Valerie's cloak a "harlot's robe."

Peter dances suggestively with a girl. ("I don't have to like her to get what I want from her," he later tells Valerie.) Valerie dances seductively with another girl in order to make Peter jealous. We learn that Valerie's mother had sex with another man while married to (or at least involved with) Valerie's father. A man makes sexual movements in jest over another man, who's lying unconscious in the middle of town.

Violent Content

Werewolves are not dainty creatures. We see the beast tear through several victims, biting someone's hand off at one point. While we rarely see its fangs and claws make contact (the hand-severing scene being a notable exception), we're fully exposed to the aftermath—bloody scratches across a face or chest, a gruesome bite on a shoulder and corpses galore.

Villagers and soldiers come after the werewolf with arrows, knives, swords and axes, most of which have little to no effect. In the end, though, the creature is killed. First, someone chops it—now in human form—in the back with an axe, and another assailant stabs the thing with a severed hand graced with silver fingernails. To get rid of the body, the "hunters" cut open the corpse and fill it with rocks; we see one of them stitch up the body with a bloody bone needle.

Bitten townsfolk are dispatched with Solomon's blessed silver sword (said to be sanctified by the Holy See). "A man bitten is a man cursed!" the executioner shouts after stabbing one unfortunate man through the neck. People get into fistfights and are threatened with knives. A man dies when he's stabbed in the gut. Another is stabbed in the shoulder. It's suggested that Valerie, as a child, slits the throat of a caught rabbit.

Solomon throws people into a metal elephant, cooking them inside as a way to encourage them to confess. And after one such interrogation, we see him digging into a mysterious, well-broiled piece of meat—the film's way of trying to make us think that Solomon could be a cannibal. (Later, we see the interrogation victim alive but unconscious in a barn.)

The film offers another nod to cannibalism: When Valerie visits her grandmother's house, she's directed to eat a mysterious stew—and she swallows a spoonful before she begins asking what it is. We never get an answer … but in the earliest versions of this "nursery" story, the wolf gives Little Red Riding Hood bits of her grandmother's flesh and blood to eat.

Crude or Profane Language

Three or four misuses of God's name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Almost everyone in the village drinks to excess the night the wolf's head is brought back. Even Valerie takes a substantial swig of booze, and several others stagger about the town square in various states of inebriation. Cesaire, Valerie's father, appears to be the drunkest of the bunch, lying in the snow with vomit visible beside his mouth. (Once his daughter revives him, Cesaire apologizes for being an embarrassment.)

Other Negative Elements

In narration mode, Valerie tells us that her family always warned her about walking in the forest alone, talking to strangers, etc. She brags that she never listened to them. And we get a strong sense that societal rules and norms mean very little to her and, to a lesser extent, Peter, who circumvent authority, sneak off by themselves and plot ways to run away together.

Conclusion

Red Riding Hood tries to serve multiple genres, from Twilight-style romance to mystery and horror. It does so with varying degrees of success. But as a morality tale—which was, in most cases, the whole point of the original story—it utterly fails.

The werewolf is finally killed—but not before one of Valerie's suitors is bitten and sentenced to a life of lycanthropy. Heretofore, he's been a pretty OK guy … and he remains so. He tells Valerie that he must leave until he learns to control his werewolf persona. Valerie tells him she'll wait for him, and she does.

In certain narratives, I can get my head around this kind of ending. If lycanthropy is presented as a misunderstood, naturalistic disease, then it might well be a great thing for Valerie to try to support her man through his "illness." If it's used as a symbol for natural human frailty—the animalistic tendencies we must all try to control within ourselves—then it's great that the guy decides to "master" his animal nature before getting too close to the ones he cares for.

But in Red Riding Hood, werewolves are not misunderstood. When a man-beast can't go to church for fear of turning into a pillar of flame, that's a pretty good sign that something's not, in the strongest sense of the word, right with you. In this story, werewolves are cursed creatures. Sure, it doesn't seem quite fair. The poor guy didn't ask to get bitten. But context forces us to consider this werewolf a creature forsaken by God. And the only way he can repair his relationship with God is to stop being a werewolf. Which he can't.

So when Valerie sides with him, she's not seeing beyond his human and animal flaws: She's ignoring that he is, essentially, damned. When she embraces him as a spiritual outcast, then, she's saying, in essence, it doesn't matter.

A side note: Twilight's vampires are more ambiguous than this. Edward can't for the unlife of him figure out where he stands when it comes to God. But Valerie's decision here is still eerily similar to Bella's rabid desire to become a vamp.

"I would do anything to be with you," Valerie tells her paramour. "Maybe there was something dark inside of me," she muses at another. So love truly does conquer all—even the will of God, in this case. And to try to prove it, Valerie leaves the security of the village (superstitious and backward) to live alone in the forest, waiting for her love to return.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Amanda Seyfried as Valerie; Shiloh Fernandez as Peter; Max Irons as Henry; Gary Oldman as Solomon; Billy Burke as Cesaire; Julie Christie as Grandmother

Director

Catherine Hardwicke ( TwilightThe Nativity StoryLords of DogtownThirteen)

Distributor

Warner Bros.

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

March 11, 2011

On Video

June 14, 2011

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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