Dir: Catherine Hardwicke
Twilight’s characters are constantly in pain. Not physical pain, the pain of being an emo teenager. That’s nothing; I watched this movie - that is pain.
16-year-old Bella (Stewart) moves to live with her father (Burke) in the small town of Forks. At school Bella is fascinated by Edward Cullen (Pattinson), they begin a relationship, but both that relationship and their lives are threatened by the fact that Edward is a vampire. I am aware that, as a 27-year-old man, I’m not the target audience for this adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s apparently wildly successful novel, but even so, Twilight is so staggeringly slapdash and substandard at every possible level that it should be laughed out of the many screens it’s currently playing in.
It begins with the vacuous screenplay, apparently written in six weeks (as if you couldn’t guess). Twilight has many people in it, but no characters. The central pairing of Bella and Edward have no discernible personality, while the ciphers around them must make do with one personality trait each. This is most troublesome in that it means that Bella and Edward’s supposedly all consuming passion is laughably unconvincing. The ‘scorching’ chemistry between Stewart and Pattinson spoken of in many other reviews seemed absent to me, and the way that they get together by constantly sniping at one another doesn’t help. Because you can’t believe the relationship there is no way that you can care about it, and that is the missing keystone that brings the whole movie tumbling down.
Lazy screenplay aside it’s not as if Twilight has anything else to recommend it. Technically the film is an unholy mess. Catherine Hardwicke isn’t a subtle director, but Thirteen showed that she has some command of film and light, a command that utterly deserts her here. Twilight is an ugly film, muddy and grainy, flat and grey. What’s really inexplicable though is Hardwicke’s choice to shoot about 75% of the film in tight facial close ups. When Bella and Edward are onscreen that percentage probably nears 90. It’s incredibly distracting, and feels amateurish in the extreme. When it’s not in close up, for instance in the terrible action scenes, almost everything is blurry. This is probably to hide the fact that Catherine Hardwicke couldn’t shoot a fight scene if her life depended on it and in that respect it fails on an epic scale. Amateur hour continues with the CGI – let’s just say you won’t believe a man can fly, or run fast, or glow.
Ah yes, the glowing. Twilight is, ostensibly, about vampires. The vampire myth goes through all sorts of changes; in From Dusk Till Dawn Tarantino decided that they were mushy and their hearts could be pulled out, while Buffy the Vampire Slayer dumped the garlic sensitivity. Twilight’s vampires barely rate the description. Almost all trace of vampirism is absent, or rather almost all trace of the negative side of vampirism. These vampires are super strong, super fast, impossibly good looking, immortal. They can fly, they can walk around in the sun, but in direct sunlight they glow, there is no mention of stakes, crosses, holy water or garlic as deadly, their fangs are barely discernible, oh and they still have their reflections. This plays less like a vampire movie than a goth girl’s wish list.
A cast of pretty young things turns up, only to fall on their pretty young faces. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have one expression between them; a mildly pained frown (it might be constipation, but who can tell?), making their endless close ups even more tedious. It’s like staring for hours into an abyss of nothingness (though that may appeal to Stephanie Myer). Nobody else really gets a look in, but Nikki Reed puts in a particularly irritating turn, stropping her way through the movie as Edward’s vampire ‘sister’. The only person who makes any sort of good impression is Anna Kendrick, who is far too pretty to be the geeky friend she plays here, but manages to get a couple of the film’s few intentional laughs with her deadpan delivery.
That’s not to say that Twilight isn’t funny, in fact it’s a non-stop laugh riot. That’s largely because it takes itself so excruciatingly seriously. Had it embraced its own campy silliness then it might have been a worthwhile distraction, but when even the gut busting vampire baseball scene is played as if it were to be taken with Chekhovian seriousness you know that’s a faint hope. I had to suppress my laughter the first time we really meet Edward, as Hardwicke employs the funniest, most spectacularly unsubtle, visual joke I’ve seen in a long time; placing him in front of a stuffed owl so he appears to be sprouting angel’s wings. Twilight is an abysmal film. Rushing through production to meet a release date has resulted in awful performances, terrible effects, a botched screenplay and a finished film that feels both heavily cut and weeks too long. The good news, they’re rushing the next one through even faster, so it may be even worse.