'Red Riding Hood' and the Gripping Jaws of Sexless Teens

Teenagers aren’t having much sex these days. And why should they? If it’s not the AIDS resurgence or public displays of adolescent pregnancy, it’s HPV, or syphilis (yes, syphilis) or any other number of other pestilences that rot your organs and turn your genitals to corrugated mush.

So does all this adolescent celibacy mean that today’s teens are less horny than their free-love Baby Boomer predecessors, or the angst-ridden millennials, or any other group of teens in history? Not a chance. If there’s one universal of the human condition, it’s hormones: Our biochemistry is primed to make us breed, and that means endless streams of panting, sweaty youngsters entering the “mate and procreate” phase.

Our culture, meanwhile, tries to Clorox all this horniness into a sanitized, sweat-free version of gentility. Which results in all sorts of hilarious side effects, like the hardcore porn industry and the abstinence movement. Movies are the perfect mirror to reflect this cultural peccadillo back at us — they digest our collective fears and anxieties and embarrassments about sex into a thick primordial soup, and project them back in Dolby Digital. And never have movies been as reflective of the “teens want to get it the hell on but can’t” trend as now.

Into this repressed hormonal petri dish skips Red Riding Hood (opening today wherever teenagers are found). Billed as a “modern retelling of the classic tale,” this is a movie that drags all the exhausted clichés out of their tombs, dresses them up in bodices and Disney-fied tunics, and showers them with a torrent of phoned-in acting and ear-stabbing dialogue. All in the name of appealing to horny teens.

Yes, this movie is face-clawingly terrible — but it serves a purpose. Call it an experiment in filling the gaping hole before the final Twilight film emerges. Since the “new Twilight” has yet to appear from the heaving bodice of another Mormon housewife, what if we turn to classic fairy tales? The original intent of stories like “Red Riding Hood” was to scare children (read: girls) into avoiding strangers (read: men with ready and willing phalluses). What storyline could be more applicable today? Sex was scary as hell then — pregnancy meant ostracism, not to mention likely death in childbirth — and it’s scary now.

This great film-making experiment is overseen, fittingly, by Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke who, for all her vampire-related mockability, truly gets teens (have you seen Thirteen? If not, refrain from judgment). Her films understand a fundamental truth about humans trapped in the binds of puberty: They wanna bang any and everything, and if they can’t, they act out in some other way. Which, in movie-land, usually means some level of blood-spurting gore.

And gore we get. The production and execution of RRH is shoddy on just about every level — $100 says even the sweeping woodland shots during the credits came straight from unused Twilight footage — but the gore is singularly impressive. No actor (yes, not even Gary Oldman, whose presence in this film is a Book of Eli-level mystery) escapes some amount of carnage. There are decapitations, deaths by torture, hacked-off limbs, slashed faces, you name it, all packed into a supposed teen romance. And the violence, quite honestly, makes sense — you’ve shut a pack of teens away in an anachronistic village located somewhere between the Alps and Portland, and forbade them from ever getting it on. What did you think was gonna happen?

Still, as goopy and plodding as the Twilight films are, at least they stay in a realm where sexual repression doesn’t translate into heartlessness. RRH winds up in a pretty nasty place, with a Kilimanjaro-high body count (predominantly made up of innocents, including a mentally disabled boy) and a heroine (Amanda Seyfried) that is totally fine with (big fat spoiler alert — though honestly it’s like spoiling the fact that the yogurt you’re about to eat is 8 months old) killing her father and abandoning her bereaved mother in order to hang with her boyfriend when the moon isn’t full. Meanwhile, her sugar-sweet but spurned fiancé rides off into the wilderness to hunt down potential witches and werewolves in the name of religion (which, actually, has plenty of precedent in history).

Yeah sure, it’s asking for all kinds of trouble to make teens ignore their sexual urges, we know. But does doing so really give them leave to become sociopathic murderers? If those are the only options, I’ll take the Generation of HPV.

Melissa Lafsky is glad to be an adult.