Fishnets and Celluliteby Kavish Chetty / 29.03.2011
Here’s the theory: postgraduate departments in the humanities are all geared towards churning out happy little Marxists. The logic is clear – whether you’re a journalist, theorist or creative writer, you’re going to grow up to be piss-poor. You’re going to irreparably find yourself caught on the darker side of the financial gulf, and what better way to ease your fractured sense of self-worth than a little schadenfreude? Sufficiently supplying you with the tools to critique capitalism, Marxism lets you know that while you can’t beat them, hell you can criticise them until you feel they aren’t worth beating in the first place. Marxist film criticism is generally less concerned with what goes on inside the screen in so far as it doesn’t relate to what goes on outside the screen. (Which essentially means its not so much focused on the formal aspects of the film, but how that film functions in society). This is an absolute ointment to the critic when you get to a film like Red Riding Hood, where the narrative has all the allure of the Congo at the stroke of midnight. So rather than get caught up in its tortuous tale, let’s start with what this film can offer you:
If you have a fetish for fishnet stockings and cellulite, this film is going to be your bread and butter, because nothing will give you a faster ticket into a chubby goth girl’s bedroom. Instant social upgrade amongst she of the kohl-fringed eyes and designer melancholy. I personally recommend you plan your schedule like this: 8 PM, Red Riding Hood; 10 PM, hit up Gandalf’s/Mordor/ROAR/or any other appropriately dim-lit brandy-and-coking hole in Observatory. Sidle up to the first thing with slashed wrists and purr, “Red Riding Hood… darkly delicious masterpiece.” Within fifteen minutes, you’ll be making that sweet and delicate love to the soundtrack of Cannibal Corpse.
This film is directed by the same auteur responsible for Twilight, dear Catherine Hardwicke: these credentials are not to be fucked with. Red Riding Hood is a giant withdrawal symptom from the Christian-mythological vampire franchise. It wants so badly to act as a financial placeholder while other corporate whores work together on churning out the fourth film in the Twilight saga: Breaking Dawn. In the loosest possible sense, this film is based on the old children’s folk tale, and it switches out glittering adolescent vampires for werewolves. The whole emphasis of this film is on being ‘dark’ and ‘subversive’, but this film is dark like Barack Obama is dark. An enduring lesson for any artist here (and I use the term broadly) is that the more seriously you take yourself, the greater the potential for irony. This film is as self-conscious as the goth and pseudo-goth contingent it is quite clearly marked out for.
I won’t dwell on the plot except to say that it’s set in a medieval village, rather imaginatively called Daggerhorn, and that there’s a terrorist wolf on the loose (he doesn’t play by their rules) who throws the village into panic and hyper-caution, which gives the opportunity for gems of dialogue like, “Be careful in the woods” and “You have no idea what you’re dealing with”. The jeopardy is that this becomes a kind of guessing game when you figure out that one of the villagers is a werewolf and it could be anyone. Queue up several easily-excised minutes of red-herrings.
But I’m in danger of critiquing to pure excess here, because there are aspects of Red Riding Hood that are quite palatable. There are glimpses at an amazing set design, with stark colours against the apocalyptic tundra. There is also Amanda Seyfried as the titular Red, and it’s not so much her acting that is attractive, as the delicate fact of her body: anime-eyes and fey expressions. The rest is made up of suggestions at something vaguely interesting (perhaps a feminist angle, although it’s malformed and ultimately limps nowhere), but for the most part is oiled by werewolf violence and sex-sessions in the forests against felled tree-trunks.
It becomes too easy, faced with such a glut of sub-par cinema, to sound bitter and impossible. Hooked criticisms like the above are too easily doled out. But there’s a brute fact at play here: films like these are just part of a network of circulating trash that numb people. They don’t provoke, they don’t interrogate. They entertain in a fully uninteresting kind of way. Is it melodramatic to ask whether we’re living in the fucking cultural end times and whether our television and cinema bears the greatest witness to this?