It’s not out until next Friday, but this is not intended as a review of the film per se, more an observation on the teenagers at whom Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood is squarely aimed.
I will be reviewing it on Zoe Ball’s Radio 2 show next Saturday, which is why I found myself at the screening at London’s massive Empire Leicester Square last night. Big films are often screened here, in order to give them a sense of occasion and lift them from the fetid, in-bred, subterranean gloom of the screening-theatre circuit where a near-blind, emotionally constipated race of grumpy middle-aged white men hold sway.
I’m all for it, occasionally. The film companies fill the cinema with real people, presumably through competitions and reader offers in magazines, and it’s always fun to spot the critics, sitting in their “usual seats” (they really do have them, even in massive West End cinemas) and in gaggles. I do not fraternise with them, but know one or two to nod or say hello to – I’m not a proper film critic, you see, and I am aware of that. They’re the hardcore. They do this for a living, and see every screening. They have earned their usual seats.
Red Riding Hood is a fairly blatant attempt by director Hardwicke to recapture the glory of the first Twilight movie, a huge hit and by far the best of the trilogy so far. Rather than adapt a book aimed at teenage girls into a film for teenage girls, she and writer David Johnson have taken a centuries-old European fairytale aimed at young children and sexed it up so that it might appeal to teenage girls. On that score, I should imagine it’s job done. With a fetching but willowy and slightly wimpy lead in Amanda Seyfried, she has found her new Kristen Stewart, torn, as is Twilight‘s Bella, between two hunky men: the hunky English blacksmith and the hunky bad-boy American lumberjack. I wonder, though, if there are t-shirts with Team Henry and Team Peter on them. I doubt it.
I wasn’t familiar with the two hunky actors, Max Irons (yes, he is the son of) and Shiloh Fernandez, who play the duelling objects of Seyfried’s adolescent affections, but both mounted the stage before the screening at the Empire, along with some other young actors I didn’t recognise, but whose hunkiness elicited whoops and squeals from the teenage girl contingent in the packed auditorium. Yes, I turned into a proper grumpy old critic while we were subjected to this cattle market before the film, mainly because it was going to put the start-time back from the advertised 7pm – if it had been advertised on the ticket, I would have chosen a different screening – and felt sorry for the two Kiss FM DJs who had to whip the crowd up into a frenzy and ask one searching question each of the assembled hunks, and Hardwicke herself, who seemed to have even less to say. (I felt sorry for the DJs from the start when they were erroneously introduced as being from XFM.) This was not a Bafta Q&A, and nor should it have been, but it spoke volumes about the type of film I was about to see, and my heart sank a little bit more.
A couple of years ago – it must have been 2008 – I passed through Leicester Square on my way somewhere else and my path was blocked by police and barriers and a heaving throng of teenage girls. The film causing the hormonal riot turned out to be Twilight, and the kids were there to squeal at Robert Pattinson, whose name I did not at that stage even know. I found it quite impressive that all these girls would turn out just to catch a glimpse of an actor, and it was correct that I, a man in his forties, shouldn’t care who he was. (He’d been in Harry Potter, but I didn’t recognise him.) Twilight was laser-guided in its marketing and, as I say, I didn’t mind the first film. I grew quickly tired of Bella and Edward and Jacob’s mooning about in the woods, but it’s not for me.
Here’s the news. Red Riding Hood isn’t for me either. But I wonder if it really works for them? (I didn’t come over all journalistic and ask the large party of teenage girls to the right of me what they thought of it, as a quick getaway is essential on such occasions, and I was about as aware of my age as I have ever been.) With its sweeping helicopter shots of Canadian mountains, Hardwicke seems keen to remind us of the Pacific Northwest where Twilight takes place. It’s got Gothy-sounding indie music in it, too. Then we’re in a fake village, where it’s all fire and thatch and ale and pagan ritual, except all the young men and women have modern haircuts, especially Peter the woodcutter, who’s stepped straight out of a moulding hair wax commercial.
The whole thing is fake. It makes the similarly supernatural Twilight look like a documentary. The wolf which terrorises the village is at first a CGI smudge, and then solidifies into a massive cuddly toy. It looks fake. Gary Oldman turns up as a mad, Van Helsing-like exterminator priest and tries to take it seriously, but he is soon mugging with the rest of them. It’s not scary. It’s not mad. It’s not sexy. (Or at least, it didn’t strike me as sexy – maybe one heaving bodice and a bit of a sweat worked up in the forge are sexy in a 12A.) Seyfried looks pretty enough in her red riding hood but the soap opera storyline about who’s-the-real-daddy? isn’t enough to prop up 100 minutes of mediaeval running about with flaming torches and hiding in churches while that now-obligatory dandruff snow floats almost permanently down, causing not one villager to put on a hat or coat.
Most of the excitement came before the film. It was interesting that one of the DJs asked one of the actors how it felt to be at a screening with so many “fans”? He was not famous, so she can’t have meant his fans. Did she mean fans of the director’s previous film? Fans of this type of film? The place was ablaze with camera phone flashes. The girls on my row, and the one in front, and the one behind, were properly excited, and who would deny them that? They giggled and munched free popcorn and stood up, craning their necks to where the RESERVED seats promised celebrity involvement.
In the end, they got Amanda Seyfried, who is actually famous because she was in Mama Mia!, and looked the most awkward, tottering on high heels in a stupidly short dress and gushing about Hardwicke while Hardwicke waved off the praise with her hand. They got Hardwicke – whose “fans” I suspect the girls might actually be – and they got Irons, Fernandez, and two other men, whose names escaped me. (One of them was black, so he must have played one of the two black brothers in the film.) I have since looked up Shiloh Fernandez and it seems he was the second choice to play Cullen in Twilight. The fans are going to know this. And in a culture where X-Factor runners-up have better careers than the actual winners, he’s probably already on walls.
Anyway, it’s a naff film. And I hope it doesn’t turn into a franchise. The kids deserve better than a demographic template being cynically applied to an existing property.
Grandma, what big spread sheets you have.