Starring Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke, and Lukas Haas
My rating: ★ star
Romantic horror whodunit is humorless mess.
Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), our heroine with the crimson hooded cloak, lives in a small medieval village that is terrorized monthly by a werewolf. The town offers a monthly tribute of its best livestock to maintain peace with the creature, but, after the wolf breaks the peace by killing Valerie’s sister, the townspeople decide to hunt the beast. The local priest (Lukas Haas) calls in renowned werewolf hunter Solomon (Gary Oldman). Meanwhile, Valerie’s parents (Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen) have arranged her marriage to the young silversmith, Henry (Max Irons—son of Jeremy and actress Sinéad Cusack) despite Valerie’s preference for a young woodcutter, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). Solomon informs the townspeople that the werewolf is someone from the village, and everyone falls under suspicion, even Valerie’s grandmother (Julie Christie).
The movie unfolds like an awkward hybrid of a whodunit, a Gothic romance, and a monster movie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do any of these genres well.
Like a whodunit, we’re presented with a village full of suspects, and the revelation of the guilty party makes the seemingly random clues make sense. In terms of plotting, the film works as a whodunit. Where it fails is keeping the audience invested in the solution. By the time the werewolf is revealed, I no longer cared. In some ways, whodunits don’t fit the modern movie paradigm. They depend on repetition of the puzzle and the clues to keep the audience trying to figure out the solution. Modern moviemaking eschews repetitious exposition.
Furthermore, Valerie is a passive point-of-view character. As a detective, she fails to engage intellectually with the puzzle. Throughout the film, she doesn’t actively seek out the identity of the guilty party but, instead, merely reacts to the actions of the werewolf and the other townspeople. In the end, she doesn’t so much solve the mystery as get presented with the conclusion.
One of the suspects is Valerie’s love interest, Peter, a woodcutter. Valerie suspects that he might be the werewolf, and, indeed, he is never seen at the same time as the werewolf. Love mixed with danger is the essential component of Gothic Romance, but, although the raw ingredients are there, the film never finds the recipe to make the romance compelling. We, the audience, never believe that Valerie and Peter are in love against all odds. When Valerie’s social climbing mother arranges her marriage to Henry, the son of the silversmith, we don’t feel that Valerie and Peter’s true love is being thwarted. We think, “Well, Henry is a nice enough guy, and there’s no possibility that he’s a werewolf.”
One reason for the failure of the central romance is the weakness of Peter as the love interest. There’s nothing interesting or exciting about him; he’s as bland as pasteurized milk. The screenplay never shows us why Valerie loves him. I suppose some young women might find Shiloh Fernandez attractive, but he lacks presence. There’s nothing attention-grabbing about him.
For a monster movie, it’s not particularly scary. Yes, the wolf attacks and kills people, but director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight) doesn’t manage to create the sense of anticipation and fear giving way to catharsis that’s essential to good horror.
The movie is also utterly humorless; it’s strangely unconscious of how ridiculous some of the material is. Solomon locks people in a giant bronze elephant to get them to talk, and the movie plays it straight-faced. We get the obligatory “Grandma, what big eyes you have!” scene, and the movie presents it seriously, without a shred of winking irony. It’s like the movie’s tongue couldn’t find its cheek with Google Maps.
In addition to the failures of story, genre, and tone, the film presents a bunch of weak performances by actors who should be better. Wide-eyed Seyfried (Les Miserables,Mamma Mia!) is perfectly cast, but she delivers a lifeless, flat, unimpressive performance. Billy Burke (Twilight, TV’s Revolution) is hopelessly miscast, floundering about in the role like the village idiot. Oldman, who can be brilliant (Immortal Beloved,Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), gives one of his fingernails-on-the-chalkboard, over-the-top performances that were so common from him in the mid-1990s. And Julie Christie is wandering around like she doesn’t know why she’s in the movie in the first place.
The movie is not a complete train wreck. Madsen and Haas give good performances in small roles. The music, by Fever Ray, is captivating. The movie is visually appealing. It probably could be edited to make a couple of very good music videos. However, as a movie, it fails to come together into anything worth watching.