Film review by: Witney Seibold
I’m a late entrant into the world of “Twilight,” so what I have to say has probably already been said by other critics, but what kind of critic would I be if I actively chose not to view this huge piece of the recent pop culture gestalt?
As it turns out, I would be a happier and more content critic. “Twilight” is a grueling experience, full of the kind of foggy, dreamy melodramatic conceits that feel ultra-important when you’re a love-starved 13-year-old girl, but can be seen for the trifles they are when looked at as an adult.
There was a time, before 1931, when movie vampires were treated as unholy, unclean animals that would suck blood, kill indiscriminately, stalk mercilessly, and spread plagues. Think of Max Schreck in “Nosferatu.” He was a gaunt, odd-looking ghoul. He was a half-animal monster that you didn’t want to touch for fear of catching whatever sicknesses were populating his very skin. When Bela Lugosi played Dracula, sex began to enter into the picture. Lugosi is not really seen a s a sex symbol these days, but at the time, he had the appeal of an exotic, older, well-moneyed foreign aristocrat. Surely many women had a fantasy of being swept away by a member of a far-away royal family. Since then, the bulk of vampires have become sexed-up incubi or succubi, whose primary function was to seduce you, undress you, rob you of your innocence, your purity, your chastity – to drink your very life’s blood, transform you into a monster, and drag you into the darkness that only monsters know.
The vampire in Catherine Hardwicke’s “Twilight” is a symbol of chastity and purity that lives in a posh house and eats animals. Vampires have become weak, fangless, sexless, milquetoast squares in this movie. I understand why 13-year-old girls would be drawn to Edward (Robert Pattinson) in “Twilight.” He’s a very good looking young man, and he talks a lot about the kind of intense, eternal romance that you experience when you first fall in love. “You’re my own personal brand of heroin,” Edward tells Bella (Kristin Stewart) at one point. He really, really wants to drink her blood, but must, must abstain. We have an insanely good-looking young man who is insanely attracted to our everygirl heroine. He has that alluring element of danger in that he’s a vampire, but he’s possessed of a non-threatening sexuality, in that he’s chaste.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with promoting sexless romance to teenage girls (see George Roy Hill’s “A Little Romance” for the pinnacle of the genre), but I take huge exception with using a vampire to sell said message. Vampires are dark, evil, wicked, unholy creatures. They should not be used to promote celibacy.
And that’s what we’re clearly discussing with “Twilight.” Stephanie Meyer, the author of the original Twilight books, is trying to equate vampire bites with unmarried sexual intercourse. Don’t bite your pal/have sex right away. Wait. Fall properly in love. Stay chaste girls. She’s using a horror ghoul to promote sex-negative, abstinence-only education. That would be like using a carnivorous werewolf to promote the vegan lifestyle. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. The sequel to “Twilight” features werewolves.
Stewart is a talented actress who has been growing on me (see “Adventureland”), but has no personality here. It’s constantly restated that Bella is clumsy, but that’s the only real defining characteristic she’s given. If she were self-deprecating or awkward in any other way, I’d buy the “clumsy” bit, but Bella is too broody to have any real character. The film’s actions take place entire in the Pacific Northwest, and the photographer really managed to capture the damp, shadowless fog of the area. It may feel dreary overall, but it’s pretty to look at. Bella has just moved from Arizona where her mom (Sarah Clarke) has remarried, to live with her stolid single father (Billy Burke, giving more to the role than the script demands, bless him). She claims not to get along with anyone at school, but actually makes several friends. “Twilight” follows the teen movie tradition of the hero or heroine having a close-knit circle of friends who are actually a lot more interesting than they are. In “Twilight” we have Michael Welsh, Christian Serratos, and Anna Kendrick from “Rocket Science.” I would have rather seen a movie about those people.
Bella also eyeballs the strangely twentysomething teenagers who eat in the corner of the cafeteria. Among them is Edward Cullen (Pattinson), who is gorgeous and mysterious. She is instantly drawn to him, but is warned away from him by her friends. Eventually Bella and Edward manage to start spending time alone together, Edward constantly saying that he can’t be with her? Why not? Well, he’s a vampire. Bella seems nonplussed at the news. Does he drink blood? Yes, but only of animals. Does he sleep in a coffin? No, he doesn’t sleep at all in fact. Why does he need to hide out in a high school? Um… who knows? How many times has he takn the same biology class? Wouldn’t he be able to hide out in an advanced college program somewhere? Does he have fangs? We never see them. How is it he can walk around in the daylight? Well, it turns out (and this is a detail that will have everyone groaning) that sunlight makes them twinkle. Yes, vampires are so very good looking that they sparkle in the sun. *sigh*
Oh. And this is also really stupid: vampires love baseball. They can only play during thunderstorms, though, as that’s the only time when most people are inside, and they can use their superfast vampire powers to play hypercharged vampire baseball games. *bigger sigh*
Eventually Bella must be spirited out of town, as an evil vampire sect wants to drink her blood. Evidently, Bella is cursed with deliciousness. All the vampires who meet her, really really want to eat her, and just her. Dammit, I wish I weren’t so tasty. There’s a big fight scene near the end between the good vampires and the evil vampires.
This film is atmospheric and well-shot. It pays close attention to detail, and to the source material. Lovers of the books have loved this film adaptation, and haters of the books have called the film one of the worst ever. I won’t go so far as to say this is a terrible film, but there are many other, far better films to deal with teen romance, and with vampires, that “Twilight” seems largely unnecessary.
Robert Pattinson is a good looking kid, and is a perfectly serviceable heartthrob for teenage girls everywhere. “Twilight” will also do as an object of pubescent affection. In 15 years, it will be remembered fondly as a nostalgic hit. I will allow the young teen girls of today to love this film unconditionally. Anyone else, I encourage them to find better films.