Twilight (2008) dir. Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: Kristin Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Green
I’m kind of fascinated by the phenomenon of “Twilight”. It’s a heavily flawed film which normally I would jump on and beat down, picking it apart for it’s sloppy structural inconsistencies, massive plots. lapses into horrendous acting, awfully-directed action scenes, and even bad continuity, yet beneath these negatives shines through the appeal which has made this film is phenomenal success.
“Twilight” is successful because, like a thinly sharpened knife, it targets its audience with pinpoint accuracy and discards everyone else who doesn’t fall into their demographic. Like mostly anyone not in high school I had never heard of “Twilight” until I was bombarded by the media onslaught in the past month. Most teens have heard of it. To help understand the hype my wife read the novel - it’s a breezy, easy-to-read 500 pages of forlorn romance, high school gossip, fashion, proms, and domestic confusion. Dare I say, it’s the “Carrie” of it’s day?
The story begins introducing Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart) who’s narrating her tale to us. She’s a child of divorced parents who is about to move in with her father in a small town in Oregon. As the new girl, she’s not ostracized, she’s the attraction – the new toy to play with. She easily makes friends and finds a place in the social web of high school. Then along comes Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the unattainable hot dude in school. He’s a member of the Cullen family, a weirdo, near incentual group of half-siblings who lives in seclusion and only come to school on overcast days.
Of course the Cullens are a coven of vampires and of course Bella falls in love with him. It takes a while though. Edward is aloof and distant to Bella, mainly because he’s madly in love with her – a dangerous relationship for a vampire to have. But the Cullens are good vampires and they’ve lived harmoniously with humans for many centuries feeding off animals for food. Their relationship kinda works and Bella is ingratiated into Edward’s goofy family. Whilst this is all going on a group of evil vampires have started killing humans in the town. When they target Bella for the next meal the Cullens battle their enemies in the name of true love.
The film is a grabber in the opening act, author Stephanie Meyer’s depiction of high school feels fresh and relevant, minus the clichés of cliques, bullies, jocks, stuck-up bitches etc. Catherine Hardwicke, who directed another non-traditional teen-angst film, "Thirteen", is the ideal choice of director and she employs a natural style without drawing attention to itself.
Then as the plot points start dropping the film’s inefficiencies start to show. The Cullens are introduced as brooding and dangerous, yet when Bella visits them for the first time they act like the Brady Bunch. Pattinson’s James Dean-like Edward character is all over the map. He makes longing glances at Bella, and speaks with an off-kilter cadence which I couldn’t figure out as bad acting, complex characterization or just a difficult American accent.
Pattinson is good-looking enough to sell the role though, because it’s Bella who really matters. Kristin Stewart single-handedly keeps the film from falling apart. After a number of supporting roles in interesting films (“Panic Room”, “Undertow”) over the last ten years, she’s ripe for this leading role.
The final half is highlighted by a number of action sequences which are sloppily choreographed and executed. The vampires have the ability to jump high and run fast, which are visualized with painfully obvious wire enhancement work which looks as bad as a low rent 70's kung-fu movie.
But teenage girls don’t go to see “Twilight” for action, they want to see romance. Bella is the ‘everygirl’, a mirror image of the audience, and so by wrangling the hot dude, and falling in love in spite of the obstacles against them, the film gets the only important thing right.
After the success of this film subsequent sequels will likely be able to correct the technical problems and deliver films which can stand on their own. After it’s all done, we probably look back on “Twilight” as it’s humble and rocky beginnings. Enjoy.