Catherine Hardwike's film is much closer to the 1984 movie "Company of wolves" (based on Angela Carter short stories) than to the original Charles Perrault tale - and like the former, it is definitely NOT for children. I am also almost certain that Catherine Hardwike was at least a little inspired by the wonderful commercial for Chanel 5, made in 1999 and featuring Estella Warren as Red Riding Hood and the wolf as himself.
Both me and my wife we liked this movie very much. Ok, granted, this is not an immortal masterpiece, but we both spend a nice cinema moment and this movie has many qualities, which I will try to describe below. MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
First, we liked the cast. Amanda Seyfried is excellent as Valerie, a young girl who reached the time to be married and gets from her grandmother a red cape as wedding gift. The name Red Riding Hood is never used in the movie, everybody calls her just Valerie - but we of course know better... Amanda Seyfried wears this red cape with a great grace and the effect (especially for the male public) is quite pleasant. It is even more pronounced when the snow falls.
Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons give a good performance as two young village men, wild, bold and violent Peter and shy, peaceful and more sophisticated Henry, who both want to marry Valerie. Those two rivals and sworn enemies both have their good and bad points and with the time Valerie will have more and more trouble to choose between them.
Virginia Madsen plays Valerie's mother - her character, although secondary, is quite important for the plot so pay good attention to everything she says. Julie Christie is Valerie's grandmother, who lives in a house deep in the forest, away from the village - and she is (obviously) even more important to the story.
Michael Hogan (who is well remembered for his role in "Battlestar Galactica") plays village's reeve, a fearless no-nonsense man, who trusts his faithful silver dagger and is not afraid of the wolf.
Gary Oldman plays an inquisitor, Father Solomon, whose body and soul were once so terribly hurt by a werewolf, that he devoted his life to destroy those monsters. As usual for Gary Oldman's characters, Father Solomon is barking mad and definitely not a good person but he is clever and quite consequent and credible in his fanatism.
A special mention goes to Billy Burke, who plays the small role of Valerie's father, a burned out, heavily drinking wood cutter, used and worn out by the hardships of life and constant struggle with poverty.
And finally there are Shauna Kain, Carmen Lavigne and Kacey Rohl as Roxanne, Rose and Prudence, Valerie's best friends and young Cole Heppel, as Claude (Roxanne's brother), a retarded village boy. Those characters, although minor in the beginning of the movie, also have some important role to play.
The second very strong point of this movie is the scenography. The views of the mountains and the forest in this film are amazing. The village is extremely well designed, as are the costumes of the villagers and the soldiers who came with Father Solomon. This movie is visually very pleasant.
The third good point is the plot, which is not stupid at all. The main mystery is very skilfully kept until the end. And the ending itself is a very good one - especially for anybody who red Angela Carter's short stories about wolves, werewolves and Red Riding Hood.
The fourth good point is the Wolf, who has absolutely nothing to do with the cute and cuddly werewolves from Twilight saga. That Wolf came to our world from the darkest layers of hell and is as evil as it is powerful and cunning. And it has absolutely no heart, no remorse and no soul.
But the best thing in this movie is the general atmosphere, which is frequently quite erotic, when in the same time there is absolutely no sex and no nudity. Somehow, the simple presence of a flock of nubile girls and young men who court them and the always present menace of a half human Beast which enjoys preying on young females is enough to generate the very special mood of this Red Riding Hood. Amanda Seyfried, her blond hair and her red cape contrasting with the virginal white snow certainly contribute a lot to this atmosphere. However this movie is much more subtle than "Company of wolves", in which at one moment Red Riding Hood gets all naked and joins the wolf pack...
There are some violent moments in this film, but here also it is much less brutal than "Company of wolves".
So all in all I can't really give less than five stars, because I really spend a good moment watching "Red Riding Hood" and I will certainly look forward for the next Catherine Hardwike movie.