Although she left the Twilight Saga having only made one instalment, reportedly due to an unwillingness to rush the second film into production, director Catherine Hardwicke seems unable to break free of that restricting series. Here she has made a film that features an annoying and unconvincing heroine (giving a narcissistic voice-over), two gorgeous young men who love her but hate each other, and a grungy oh-so-sullen soundtrack which undoubtedly occupies the iPods of many teenage girls who purport to be ‘misunderstood’ and madly in love. Ring any bells? Even the opening shots of the movie are almost identical to those of Twilight.
Amanda Seyfried is our annoying heroin. A werewolf is tearing up her home town and she’s not sure what to do. She’s also inherited Kristen Stewart’s dad from Twilight (Billy Burke), but she’s trying not to think about that. She’s got other things on her mind, the recent death of her sister being the first and foremost. She’s upset, her mother’s upset, we think Billy Burke’s upset too but he always looks a bit sad. Her hot boyfriend, Shiloh Fernandez, makes her happy, but her parents don’t approve. He doesn’t earn enough money, even though he seems to have an unlimited supply of Vo5 hair products (which is pretty neat, for a medieval woodcutter). Back in them old days it was socially acceptable to whore out your daughters to bump up the family purse, so Seyfried has been promised to the equally hot blacksmith Max Irons. He may not gel his hair as nicely as Fernandez, but his skin is gorgeous enough to be on a Clearasil ad. Seyfried is expected to bury her objections and marry him for his money.
In an attempt to satisfy a macho-tough-guy-we’re-pretty-but-still-manly complex, both of the fit young men take to the caves, with some expendable middle-aged locals, to find the werewolf which has plagued their village for generations. They come back with a wolf’s head on a stick. Ah. But it’s the wrong wolf. This unhappy news is brought to us by Gary Oldman, who seems to be half Exorcist, half Van Helsing. He arrives to save the village from the big bad dog, and introduces a tough ‘a man bitten is a man cursed’ rule into their otherwise gentle lives. He kills those who are unlucky enough to get a nip from the wolf so they don’t become dangers to everyone else. He also reminds these simple folk that werewolves are humans, so the monster could be anyone of them. Everyone suspects everyone, including kind old Granny, Julie Christie, who seems to be impersonating an aging hippie who’s fallen a few centuries into the past.
After this lengthy set up, the plot mostly falls apart. Seyfried falls out with the boyf so dabbles in sexy quasi-lesbian dancing to piss him off. Oldman suspects a boy with learning difficulties of being the wolf, so he mercilessly tortures him for a lengthy period of time. This kind of viciousness may emphasise the brutal times in which these people live, but the scene is at odds with the soppy fantasy-romance atmosphere that pervades the rest of the movie.
The most irritating detail, although one which many are understandably ready to forgive, is the fact that everybody, save for a few grisly extras, are extraordinarily well-kempt. Amanda’s hair gives off a Herbal Essences shine, her mother’s make-up looks suspiciously Max Factor and the guys are so buff it’s hard to remember you’re in the cinema and not a branch of Hollister. Thankfully they don’t insist on lounging around topless quite as much as the Twilight boys. Indeed, the clothes selected for woodcutter Fernandez make him look as if he’s wandered out of a gay nightclub, not a medieval fairytale.
The film has a very restricted feel to it in terms of location. It is rare the story takes us past the little village these people inhabit – we briefly get to see some dark caves and glimpse some unexplained visions of mountains – which adds to the feeling of limited scope to the story. The limp, meandering paper-thin plot could have been easily tightened up with a more traditional or rounded ‘quest’ structure. It looks as if this might actually come true when the pack of men go off to hunt the wolf, but this event is fleeting and lacking in tension. A less aimless structure may have introduced even more cliché and predictability, but it may have been more entertaining than what Hardwicke delivers.
Seyfried turns in a performance devoid of charisma or charm, although on the whole she is a more watchable and likable actress than Kristen Stewart. It is heartbreaking to see the likes of Oldman and Christie lowering themselves to barrel-scraping material such as this, but I suppose they’ve got to find something to bulk up their pensions.
It is also puzzling why Leonardo DiCaprio has chosen this as a major production for
his company, Appian Way. Maybe he thinks he has the new teen franchise on his hands, and the conclusion of the film does offer sufficient loose ends to leave the door open for a second instalment, in case Warner Bros feel the world needs one. What would they call it? The Hood Saga II: New Cloak?
Good: Precious little, but it may see Twihards through until the Christmas release of Breaking Dawn.
Bad: Just another depressing reminder as to how vacuous teenage cinema can get.