(2008) dir. Catherine Hardwicke
Twlight is “the” teenage vampire film, based on the best-selling novels by Stephenie Meyer, and is one of the current fads du jour among teenyboppers (or so the press would have you understand). I hadn’t really had a lot of intention of seeing it, based on reviews, but after seeing the excellent Let the Right One In (2008), the prepubescent Swedish vampire movie, I felt that it would be an interesting counterpoint and cultural touchstone. Sometimes it’s better to make references to things that you actually have some experience of, rather than simply casting aspersions because some things “sound” lame.
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who got her start and notariety directing “teen” films with Thirteen (2003), which I considered highly dubious, the film is meant to appeal to the age bracket and target audience of the books, teens and pre-teens and the people who still identify with teeniness. Hardwicke attempts to capture the experience from the perspective of the teens, making it more than anything, a “teen” film. Parents are somewhat in the ether, either traveling and communicating by phone or present by unable to comprehend their lives. Oddly, and this is probably an age thing, I felt identifying with the parents a bit more than the lead girl, Bella, played by Kristen Stewart. But then again, Bella is a sullen, pouty girl, who really is quite charmless. Robert Pattinson who plays Edward, her vampire love, is broodingly chiseled and angular, but capable of charm.
Interestingly, as a teen film, the teen perspective and the absentee parents are normal tropes going back for decades. What is interesting in this fantasy romance is that Edward’s vampire family are more present, caring, and an intact family unit (albeit with a snarky sister). They smile, are welcoming, and are protective, meeting Bella for the first time in their house. Maybe this is the irony of an “unbroken” home? Of siblings? And a fantasy modern house? And, heck, they even play baseball together. How all-American can you get? This is an idealized family unit.
One of the critiques of this film is that it’s sexless. The vampire mythos being based on very sexualized metaphors, we have a family of “vegetarian” vampires (by being “vegetarian”, they only eat animals, not people — ironic, no?), which goes along with our truly vegetarian heroine (and author who shows up briefly to order a veggie sandwich). So, they’re not monsters, they tamp down their cravings, and Edward can’t get into any heavy petting without getting a little too much bloodlust going, so they’re sexless too. They’re kind of a repressed vampire clan who’ve made chastity promises. No wonder this swings in middle America.
Hardwicke goes heavy in the romance department, but uses a cinematic color palate that is mostly blues and greens, with each character more pale than the next. But where she is worst is in the action and special effects department. The FX are worse than most shows on the SciFi Network shows, so cheap that it doesn’t even look like they cared to make it look good. She does seem to like the woods and waterfronts of the Pacific Northwest, though.
As clunky and bloodless as the film is, it’s still not awful. Though I found Bella to be lacking in charisma, other characters seemed to carry it out a bit. I guess it works for the target audience. But for me, it was just another genre film with modest slants and perhaps more interesting as a “teen” film than a “vampire” film. Whereas Let the Right One In spoke somehow to me about isolation and loneliness and love, this film plays it out, acts it out, like a high school production of Romeo and Juliet, with lots of brooding and pastiness.