| Valerie (Amanda Seyfried from "Letters to Juliet," "Dear John" and "Mamma Mia!") is a beautiful girl in her late teens living in a medieval village surrounded by a dark forest. Her adventurous side tempts her into breaking the rules and going into the forest alone.
Valerie is in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a hunky orphaned woodcutter that she has known since childhood. Her father, Cesaire (Billy Burke, best known as Bella's dad Charlie Swan in the "Twilight" movies), and mother, Suzette (Virginia Madsen from "Sideways") have arranged for her to marry Henry (Max Irons, son of Jeremy), a blacksmith from a wealthy family. Rather than wed someone she barely knows, she decides to run away with Peter. Before they are able to make their getaway, they learn that Valerie's older sister has been killed by a werewolf. The villagers had appeased the wolf for almost 20 years by offering an animal sacrifice on a monthly basis.
Father Auguste (Lukas Haas from "Inception") summons Father Solomon (Gary Oldman from "The Dark Knight" and best known as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter movies), who has a reputation for ridding other villages of werewolves and witches.
Before Solomon arrives, a male hunting party is formed. The men slay a common grey wolf and return victoriously to the village.
Solomon destroys the festive mood by pointing to the wolf's head on a stake. He announces that the werewolf would have returned to its human form upon death. He is certain the werewolf lives among them in the village, becoming the vicious monster only at night.
Whenever Valerie needs a break from her parents, she goes to visit her grandmother (Oscar-nominated legend Julie Christie from "Away from Her," "Finding Neverland" and "Troy"). Grandmother gives Valerie a red-hooded cloak to wear.
This suspense-filled mystery keeps the audience guessing as to the human identity of the werewolf. Fans of "The Twilight Saga" will be in seventh heaven with all the similarities. Director Catherine Hardwicke ("Twilight" and "Thirteen") creates a tense, foreboding atmosphere. Screenwriter David Leslie Johnson has fashioned a neat variation on a classic fairy tale. It's no wonder that his original script made the 2009 favorites roster compiled by Hollywood studio executives. Johnson is able to balance the gruesome horror with humor and romance.
The blue-eyed Seyfried has never looked lovelier. She is in practically every scene and doubles as the narrator. She deftly juggles her character's innocence with an unquenchable sexual yearning. This movie should make both Fernandez and Irons instant celebrities for the younger crowd. They handle their roles in a polished, professional manner. Seyfried and Fernandez share the best screen kiss of 2011.
Oldman hams it up as the expert from afar and steals every scene he appears in. Madsen makes the most of her limited screen time. The casting department deserves kudos for the close resemblance of the mother and daughter. Christie is still a classy lady and deserves early consideration for a best supporting actress nomination. Even at age 69, this cougar will turn heads of male baby boomers in the audience.
The chilling original soundtrack from composer Brian Reitzell ("Lost in Translation") is the year's best so far. You can't beat the breathtaking scenic setting of Vancouver, British Columbia. The cinematography, costumes, lighting and visual effects (especially the exemplary design of the big bad wolf) are all aces. The weakest link is the corny dialogue.
This crowd-pleasing guilty pleasure will exceed all your expectations. It turns a familiar children's bedtime story into a sexually charged dramatic thriller. It accomplishes in a cinematic way what "Wicked" did theatrically to "The Wizard of Oz."
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"