Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Girl With The Red Riding Hood

Genre: Horror
Premise: (from IMDB) Set in a medieval village that is haunted by a werewolf, a young girl falls for an orphaned woodcutter, much to her family's displeasure.
About: David Leslie Johnson’s script “Orphan,” made a lot of noise when it was picked up a couple of years ago. Even though it didn’t make a huge dent in the box office, I thought it was pretty good, especially the bizarre twist ending which I wouldn’t have predicted had you given me a hundred tries. Johnson has a very enviable backstory. He was lucky enough to have been mentored by Frank Darabont (working with him on both The Green Mile and Shawshank). The Girl With The Red Riding Hood stars Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen, Shiloh Somebody and Julie Christie. Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the first Twilight film, is directing.
Writer: David Leslie Johnson
Details: 120 pages – revised first draft – April 16, 2009 (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film's release. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

You say I don’t do horror. A pox upon you! I do horror. I’m doing horror right now knuckleheads. I heeded all your nasty e-mails and death threats and am finally giving you want you want. Okay, none of that is true. I’m only reviewing this because I hated the other script I was going to review (“36”) and couldn’t muster up the energy to review it.

But here’s the truth. I WOULD review more horror IF there was more horror to review. It seems like every horror script that comes down the pipeline is either a shitty remake or a sure-to-tarnish-the-original sequel. All I’m asking for is ORIGINAL HORROR. Something fresh and unique, like Johnson’s previous effort, Orphan. Any spec sales that fall under that category, let me know, cause I'll be happy to read them.

So, The Girl With The Red Riding Hood is a “gothic” reimagining of that famous fairy tale, “Little Red Riding Hood.” Johnson has been saddled with the difficult task of fleshing out this 5 minute story into 2 hours. The results are, I suppose, solid, but since this isn’t really my thing, I had a hard time getting into it.

It’s 1324 in a French village and 17 year old Isabelle is having a secret romance with fellow villager, and brooding hunk, Peter, who works for her father. However, Isabelle is told that she’s being married off to a man named Henri to settle a debt between her and Henri’s family. Don’t you just love the old days? Have a problem with me? Here, take my daughter.

Isabelle is devastated but she and the rest of the village have bigger issues to battle. A rogue wolf has been terrorizing the town for decades and while it hasn’t killed any of them recently, signs point to that changing soon. Wolf be hungry. So scared are the villagers that they send for a “Witchfinder General” by the name of Solomon. I’m, of course, wondering the same thing you are. Why would you hire a witchfinder to find a wolf? (see how bad I am at reviewing horror?)

Well Solomon, a very serious individual, is too busy being pissed off to care what I wonder. He explains that this isn’t a wolf terrorizing their town. It’s a WEREWOLF. Solomon knows all about werewolves, you see. He’s killed one before. A werewolf that ended up being his own wife! By the name of Bella! Okay, I'm kidding I'm kidding. She wasn't named Bella.

Anyway, Solomon and his men lure the werewolf into town, where it becomes preoccupied with Isabelle, and after finally getting her alone, it TALKS. Yes, this werewolf can talk. It wants Isabelle to come off with him. Apparently it’s not a very smart werewolf or it would know that people don't run off with werewolves! Unless of course, the father orders them to. Then it's okay.

Afterwards, Solomon realizes that the werewolf is not some rogue wolf at all, but that it lives here, in the village. Someone, one of them, is the wolf! The town naturally starts freaking out, and the mystery is on. Which one of them is the wolf?? And will it kill them all?

Okay so, disclaimer time. This isn’t my thing. Doesn’t matter if this were Oscar-worthy writing, I probably wouldn’t like it. Having said that, it’s a solidly executed script. I admit that the one area of writing that intimidates me the most is swords & shields period pieces. Anybody who can write dialogue for a time they did not exist in, where people spoke in a rhythm and a vocabulary as familiar to us as Japanese, I have a lot of respect for. And I think Johnson did a nice job with that.

I also thought he did a good job keeping the story fresh. There’s little twists and revelations here that throw the story in another direction just when it needs it. We have a devastating family secret that's revealed about Isabelle's sister. We have Solomon showing up to add some ass-kicking to the mix. We have a wolf who's able to speak. All of that really kept you on your toes.

But if there’s one type of story I don’t respond to it’s the “Let’s wait here and die,” story. When you throw a bunch of characters into a location and they just wait for the bad guys to show up - that's no fun for me. It’s not that you can’t make it work. I just like when my characters are active, when they have plans. In Aliens, they’re not just waiting for the aliens to kill them. They’re formulating a plan to get the hell out of there. Johnson’s able to infuse the characters with some proactive moments, but in the end, they’re still just a bunch of people waiting around.

This reminds me. Didn’t the original Red Riding Hood walk through a forest? Wasn’t that the big set piece of the story (did they have set pieces back in the fairy tale days)? That she was going somewhere and the wolf cut her off? I guess I kept waiting for this long journey she would have to take through the woods, knowing that the wolf was out there, and the ensuing suspense that would come from whether she would make it or not. Not a huge deal but it seemed like that kind of scene could have some potential and it was a part of the original story so I was confused as to why it wasn't there.

Despite this not being my cup of tea, I can see it working. The image of an innocent girl in a red riding hood is so iconic that I can’t imagine the trailer not being cool. The question is, does the public’s demand to have their werewolves with ripped abs and predetermined teams make a tale like this obsolete? We’ll have to wait and see.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Hollywood likes things they know. They like to get behind stories the public’s heard of before because then they don't have to spend a billion dollars educating them on it. You and I have heard of Red Riding hood, so there's a familiarity factor there. There's no familiarity factor with "Blue-shoed Thomas" or "The Old Man With The Green Jacket." For that reason, fairy tales are a great place to look for stories. Nobody owns the rights to them, and many are well-known. The trick is to throw a unique twist on the tale to make it fresh. Remember how cool that video game “Alice” was? They simply threw Alice in Wonderland into the horror genre. What about taking the Three Little Pigs and turning it into a modern day comedy starring Jack Black, Jonah Hill, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman? I’m only half-joking! But seriously, if you can find a cool spin on one of these tales, run with it. I see a lot of new writers get noticed this way.