Home > Reviews > RED RIDING HOOD – Brian Reitzell and Alex Heffes

RED RIDING HOOD – Brian Reitzell and Alex Heffes

redridinghoodOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Poor old Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm must be rolling in their graves, seeing how their old fairy tale has been modernized. Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the first Twilight film, has now “Twilightified” the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood in an attempt to capture the same teenage girl demographic by adding a whole load of sex appeal, rippling abdominal muscles, and brooding teenage angst to the story of wolves and grandmothers and little girls in red walking through the woods. Amanda Seyfried stars as Valerie, a young girl from a village in a remote forest who finds herself caught between Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), the man she loves, and Henry (Max Irons), the man she was promised to by her parents – not to mention the looming threat of a werewolf, who has a nasty habit of picking off villagers who wander too far off the beaten path. The film also stars Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen and Julie Christie.

The music for Red Riding Hood is by Brian Reitzell and British composer Alex Heffes. Reitzell’s work in film to date has included co-authorship of the score for Lost in Translation with Kevin Shields, and the truly hideous vampire score 30 Days of Night, while Heffes has been generally impressive to date, with scores such as The Last King of Scotland, State of Play, and The Rite to his name. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Red Riding Hood. In a desperate attempt to capture the attentions of the same grungy demographic that Twilight did, the music treads the same path, eschewing traditional orchestral lines in favor of hard-edged rock and electronica tunes which stand completely at odds with the film’s historical setting, and its Gothic roots. It is, for the most part, quite awful.

The score actually begins quite promisingly in “Towers of the Void”, which Reitzell co-wrote with French musician Anthony Gonzalez of the electronic band M83, and which features a hypnotic, nervous-sounding cimbalom rhythm supported by a wave of strings and breathy, slightly-industrial sounding electronic sound design. The sound is contemporary, but at least makes an effort to provide a little location and time period specificity. This motif continues on into the first few seconds of the second cue, “Kids”, when it is accompanied by ghostly vocal effects, but is quickly abandoned in favor of a completely anachronistic light disco beat and Reitzell’s dreary, sludgy synth textures.

For the majority of the score, Heffes’ orchestral textures are completely buried underneath multiple layers of Reitzell’s intrusive, grating, grinding synth effects, obscuring any nuance or subtlety they might offer in favor of ear-shattering noise and processed samples. The CD liner notes list 104 members of the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra as having performed on this score, including virtuoso cellists Tina Guo and Steve Erdody, and legendary horn player Jim Thatcher – although why they bothered employing them is beyond my understanding. 90% of the time you can’t hear what they’re doing through all the scraping metallic noise, and on the few occasions that they do take the lead they’re not doing much more than playing simple chords and interspersed with skittery horror writing. The cues in which the orchestra does rise to the fore, such as “The Reveal”, are by far the most impressive tracks on the album, and it makes you wonder just how much better this score would have been had Heffes tackled it alone.

Instead, Reitzell’s synthetic palette dominates the proceedings. Cues like “Dead Sister” feature little more than low, droning tones and rattling percussion over a bed of shifting string chords and an (admittedly quite unusual) vocal effect. Later, both “Mt. Grimoor” and “Tavern Stalker” obfuscate a brooding cello motif with a deafening torrent of squealing metallic moans and groans, water drip effects and a synthesized heartbeat. The score’s central action sequence – the “Wolf Attack Suite” – mistakenly believes that adding increasing amounts of deafening noise on top of the already loud orchestra somehow makes things more exciting, when in actual fact it just means that you can’t hear either the electronics or the orchestra properly, and it just becomes mud. This is a prime example of a cue where someone needed to reign Reitzell in and tell him that perforating your listeners’ eardrums is not a good idea; it’s also a perfect example of how much better this score could have been had they had someone with more experience at the helm.

In addition to the score, the soundtrack album features two songs by the Swedish experimental electronic group Fever Ray, whose lead singer Karin Dreijer Andersson is better known for her work as a member of alternative electronic band The Knife. Her two songs – “The Wolf” and “Keep the Streets Empty for Me” – are clearly designed to further enhance the album’s appeal to the troubled emo-Goth set the movie seeks to reach, and are OK enough if you’re into that sort of thing. “The Wolf”, somewhat unexpectedly, opens with a barrage of didgeridoos, before Andersson’s digitally manipulated howling spoils the effect. Her vocal performance in “Keep the Streets Empty for Me” actually reminds me of a little of Björk or Emiliana Torrini, and has that hopeless, despair-filled quality that those Icelandic songstresses possess, which I quite like. An additional song, “Just a Fragment of You”, again features Anthony Gonzalez and a few brief statements of the thematic material heard in the opening cue, before his vocals are digitally detuned halfway through the piece. The similar-sounding “Crystal Visions” by the British electro-rock duo The Big Pink brings the album to a close.

Red Riding Hood is a massive missed opportunity. This is a film that cries out for a dark, Gothic, cruelly romantic score, that underscores both the love triangle in which the main character finds herself, and the ever-looming presence of the deadly wolf hunting her from the shadows. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not being an old grump who doesn’t understand the appeal of electronic music. My public acclaim for Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy score last year proves beyond doubt that I can fall in love with a good electronic score, when it’s done right. Sadly, Red Riding Hood is little more than a mess of poorly-rendered sampled textures and predictable orchestral lines which will not satisfy fans of either style. To resort to a pun, it huffs, and it puffs, but it doesn’t blow the house down.

Rating: **

Buy the Red Riding Hood soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Towers of the Void (written by Anthony Gonzalez and Brian Reitzell) (2:31)
  • Kids (1:53)
  • Dead Sister (2:00)
  • The Wolf (written by Karin Dreijer Andersson, Liliana Zavala, Christoffer Berger, Van Rivers and Peder Mannerfelt, performed by Fever Ray) (4:39)
  • Mt. Grimoor (2:43)
  • Tavern Stalker (0:44)
  • Grandma’s House (1:26)
  • Keep the Streets Empty for Me (written by Karin Dreijer Andersson and Cecilia Nordlund, performed by Fever Ray) (5:34)
  • Wolf Attack (5:03)
  • Just a Fragment of You (written and performed by Anthony Gonzalez and Brian Reitzell) (4:38)
  • The Reveal (6:08)
  • Finale (1:34)
  • End Suite (5:29)
  • Crystal Visions (written by Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell, performed by The Big Pink) (5:47)

Running Time: 50 minutes 15 seconds

Watertower Music (2011)

Music composed by Brian Reitzell and Alex Heffes. Conducted by Alex Heffes. Performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra. Additional music by Anthony Gonzalez and Ken Andrews. Featured musical soloists Tim Young, Josh Humphrey, David Palmer, Roger Neill, Tina Guo and Barbara Cohen. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands and Michael Perfitt. Edited by Jennifer Nash. Album produced by Brian Reitzell.

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  1. ColdGoldLazarus
    September 22, 2015 at 8:06 am

    So, you said “Towers Of The Void” and “The Reveal” are good, but most of the rest is junk. Are there any other songs on the soundtrack that are worth listening to, like those two?

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