Red Riding Hood: Directed by Catherine (Twilight) Hardwicke

The fantasy horror Red Riding Hood, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and starring Amanda Seyfried, Lukas Haas and Gary Oldman, will be released by Warner Bros. Pictures on March 11.

For contemporary audiences, the title “Red Riding Hood” might conjure up fairy-tale images of an innocent little girl in a red cape heading to Grandmother’s house. But, in fact, the original story was a cautionary tale of danger and deception intended to frighten impressionable, young minds.

Director Catherine Hardwicke notes it’s the story’s more sinister roots that lend themselves perfectly to a fantasy thriller. “Most of us grew up with a sanitized version of Red Riding Hood, but the original fairy tale has darker elements that make it much more intriguing. The idea of a girl going into the woods by herself and having a wolf stalking her and then speaking to her… That holds so much mystery and captures your imagination on so many levels. When you were a child, the story might have meant one thing to you, but looking back on it as a teenager or adult, you respond to it in a completely different way.”

Producer Jennifer Davisson Killoran offers, “It’s an iconic story, and although we may have heard different versions, there are things that are universal: the red cloak, the wolf, the lie, the fear. It’s so simple and yet so terrifying. We were excited about the idea of taking this time-honored tale and changing it up for a modern audience.”

The implicit message of the Red Riding Hood fable is: don’t talk to strangers. But what if the wolf turns out to be someone you know…someone you trust…someone you love?

Killoran observes, “The story plays into our fears that someone close is not really who they appear to be. To me, the big, bad wolf represents the anxiety of not knowing who you’re really dealing with.”

Putting a twist on the classic tale, the predator in the film is a werewolf, giving it the guise of a human until a full moon illuminates its true nature.

Building on that premise, screenwriter David Leslie Johnson crafted a murder mystery in which everyone is a possible suspect and the resulting terror and paranoia permeates an entire community. 

Killoran confirms, “Virtually every single character has that moment where you lose faith in them. We very consciously designed it so that anyone could be the wolf.”

”I think David did a beautiful job,” states Hardwicke.

“He dove into the genesis of the legend to get at the essence of it. And then he added his own fertile imagination to the mix and really enriched the story.”

Johnson says, “I did a lot of research into how the fable had changed as it was passed down, depending on the time and place. Long before it was tied up in a nice little bow and presented as a fairy tale, it contained some graphic and rather disturbing details and the ending wasn’t quite so pat. I liked the idea of expanding on the story’s origins to generate more danger, suspense and adventure.”

There is also romance. The central character, Valerie, is caught between two handsome suitors: Peter, her heart’s desire since childhood, and Henry, the man her parents have chosen for her to marry. Questions about the identity of the werewolf make her choice a matter of not only the heart but of life or death.

Further complicating things, she has an encounter with the wolf and is shocked to learn they have a unique and very personal connection.

 Amanda Seyfried plays the role of Valerie, whose signature red cloak gives the story its name. “The love triangle makes it more interesting because Valerie doesn’t know who to trust,” the actress says. “She loves Peter, but she is suddenly noticing little nuances about him that make her start to wonder. Could the love of her life be the werewolf? And she is also developing a closer relationship with Henry and sees what a good man he is, but questions arise about him as well. She has to figure out if what she wants is what she needs.”

The combination of young love, suspense and ancient legend immediately appealed to Hardwicke, who recalls, “As I read the script, I got very excited because it took place in a fantasy world but had a dark side. It was a thriller with unexpected turns as well as a compelling love story, which also held some surprises for me. I was really pulled in as the stakes kept getting higher, and more and more secrets and lies were unraveled.”

For the producers, the choice of Catherine Hardwicke to direct “Red Riding Hood” was an easy one. Killoran attests, “Catherine has demonstrated an ability to tap into the soul of younger audiences in a way that few others can. It’s evident in all her films; they are never condescending or stereotypical. There is something very honest in the way she conveys how teenagers communicate, how they think and how they look at the world.”

Nevertheless, the appeal of collaborating with Hardwicke spanned the different generations represented in the cast, from emerging talents to longtime veterans of the screen. Oscar-winner Julie Christie remarks, ” Catherine was an absolute revelation to me. She has a fantastic youthful vitality and is so full of joy, but is also so focused and skilled in getting the job done. Working with her was an extremely positive experience for me.”

”Having seen her movies, I thought working with Catherine would be intriguing,” says Gary Oldman. “That was one of the things that attracted me to the project. And when I met her, I loved her passion.”

Billy Burke, who was the only member of the cast reuniting with Hardwicke, following “Twilight,” comments, “I have a huge place in my heart for Catherine. I’ve never met anyone with the energy level she has and it’s infectious. She has a way of infusing everyone on the set with a shared sense of purpose.”

Seyfried agrees. “You want a director who brings that much enthusiasm and excitement to the table. She just loves making movies and has so much imagination. When we were in pre-production, she showed me drawings and photos and videos she had put together, which really helped me understand the different facets of my character. She truly is the most creative director I’ve ever worked with.”