In defence of Twilight
James R | On 04, Apr 2016
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson
Don’t you hate it when things turn out to be good? That must be how some people feel after watching Twilight, the first teen vampire flick based on Stephenie Meyer’s series of novel. Over the years, it’s become a flag-bearing example of what’s perceived as twaddle aimed at young adults, a shorthand for things that can’t be good because lots of teenage girls like them – filed right next to Justin Bieber and One Direction. Actually sitting down and watching Catherine Hardwicke’s film, though, reveals a romance that’s worth engaging with – a fact that may prove pretty irksome for those so dismissive of it.
But imagine, for a second, how frustrating life would be if you were Bella (Stewart). Living with her estranged father in a new town, she doesn’t fit in with the trendy crowd. She’d much rather share eyeliner with the distant collective of pale-faced kids in the school canteen. They’re withdrawn, mysterious and ridiculously good looking. Of course, that means only one thing: vampires. Most gorgeous of all neck biters, though, is Edward Cullen (Pattinson). Not only he is ridiculously fit, but when he isn’t pouting or walking in slow motion, he’s scaling trees, running through the air, or stopping cars hitting her with his bare hands. Phwoar.
Naturally, Bella and Edward fancy the pants off each other. But all is star-crossed in love and horror, leading this unlikely couple down the garden path to the mulberry bushes behind the bike shed. And in these heady, hormone-laden bushes lies one thing: trouble. The thing is that if Ed were to give in to his desires, his blood lust would literally kill her. Ed might be from a family of ‘vegetarians’ (who only eat animals, not humans), but at his heart, he’s still a natural born predator. Does he have the willpower to resist chomping her jugular to pieces?
Things get ever more strained when a troupe of bad vamps wander into town, gobbling up the locals. Apparently, Bella is so deliciously fragrant that they all want a taste. Which is convenient enough to cue some dodgy wirework and a knuckle-on-fang dustup. Throughout all of this, there’s lot of swooning, drooling and moping – the kind of thing that, if left unchecked, could see Twilight live up to its unfair reputation. But while our pubescent pair are slaves to their emotions, gazing into the distance and uttering lines that scale the heights of Brokeback Mountain – “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin…” – there’s a real chemistry evident on screen.
Meyer backs it up with a hefty serving of mythology that deserves credit for bringing something new to the genre table – like (the superior) Let the Right One In, the franchise has its own take on traditional myths and isn’t afraid to go in its own direction. In this case, that means a slightly unsubtle intertwining of being chaste and being undead (a smart interpretation of the age-old Dracula-and-woman trope), dishing up creepy horror lore in a way that its modern audience can relate to. Hardwicke presents it with a keen sense of pacing – the film chops up the source material to build tension more efficiently – and a nice line in imagination to match the relatively low-budget effects (the Cullen clan’s orange contact lenses and pale faces are wonderfully eerie). After all, when was the last time you saw a vampire film that climaxed around a game of baseball?
Combined with the excellent Kristen Stewart, who gives us a strong line in intensely teenaged angst – that fiercely individual streak would eventually lead Bella to a more empowering position come the franchise finale – and Robert Pattinson’s aloof good looks, the result is a dark and attractive piece that, even if you expect to go in laughing, will leave you rooting for its lead couple anyway. Isn’t life, like, so unfair?