Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 5, 2015)
Like their subjects, vampire movies will never die. The genre gets a bit of a twist with 2008’s Twilight, the tale of teen bloodsuckers.
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves to a small spot in Washington state to live with her father Charlie (Billy Burke). Despite Bella’s quiet and introverted nature, the novelty of a new student in a tiny burg makes her the toast of the town.
Bella learns of the Cullen family, a clan of super-attractive foster kids who live under the umbrella of Dr. Cullen (Peter Facinelli) and keep to themselves. Oddly, Dr. Cullen likes to pair up the foster boys and girls romantically, so most fit into couples, but mysterious Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) goes solo.
Until he meets Bella, that is. Edward finds himself irresistibly drawn to her, and she feels the same. Their romance builds slowly, however, and Bella discovers Edward’s secret identity as a vampire along the way. This leads to her integration into his family – and problems when rival vampires catch her scent.
Although I referred to the teen emphasis of Twilight as a twist, clearly it’s not the first time the genre approached the high school set. Back in 1987, The Lost Boys became a decent hit with a similar approach to young vampires.
However, that doesn’t mean Twilight rips off Lost Boys - or even resembles it more than superficially, really. Lost Boys was more of an action comedy, while Twilight emphasizes romance. Sure, it tosses in some inevitable mayham as well, but the tale focuses on the seemingly doomed relationship between Bella and Edward.
Really, it’s just the vampire twist that gives us any reason to distinguish Twilight from a slew of other chick flicks out there. I don’t intend that to come across as a criticism of the film; it’s just an indication that much of Twilight fits a pretty standard romance mode, albeit a romance with more action than usual, especially in its second half.
Though Twilight features only that one serious twist, it’s a good one, and it creates a surprisingly interesting flick. Back when it ran theatrically, a female friend of mine told me how much she liked it. I scoffed, as I couldn’t figure out what a 38-year-old woman got from fare apparently intended for teens. If I couldn’t understand what appeal the movie would have for a 30-something woman, I sure couldn’t discern any potential it would have for then-41-year-old male me.
I guess I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – or a movie by its ad campaign and fan base. Clearly Twilight works best for teen girls, as they remain its primary audience. That doesn't mean it can’t succeed with other demographics, though; the female crowd will probably take more from it, but the guys can find elements to like as well.
Actually, the romantic aspects of the story become its most successful. The first act remains the most intriguing, as the film’s initial 40 minutes or so set up the characters and situations in a good way. Sure, we know Edward’s secret from the get-go – we saw the trailers – but Twilight encapsulates teen life well and provides a nice riff on the usual high school courtship rituals.
The action sequences tend to feel more perfunctory. Sometimes I get the feeling they exist because they’re supposed to exist, like those behind Twilight are afraid to veer too much from the standard vampire template. And maybe they’re right – maybe the story would falter if it stayed with relationships all the time.
I kind of wish they’d given that a shot, though. The movie’s villain is entirely one-dimensional and decidedly forgettable. Again, it’s like they toss him in to check off a box on a list; he adds nothing to the film beyond some unnecessary drama. The film’s basic Romeo and Juliet riff about lovers who seemed ill-fated should be enough; we don’t need some perfunctory outside threat when we worry the movie’s leading man will gobble its leading lady every time he kisses her.
The action scenes lose some punch due to poor effects work as well. The visual effects of Twilight often seem cheap and unconvincing. They’re so tacky that they actively distract from the story; we find it hard to buy into the vampires’ powers because the movie makes them look so goofy.
On the positive side, the actors all contribute good performances. Pattinson seems especially impressive as Edward. He really shows the character’s inner turmoil as his heart battles with his mind. We can clearly see why he would appeal to a girl – especially an awkward one like Bella – but Pattinson gives Edward a particular coat of quirkiness as well. Yeah, he remains bound to the James Dean school of teen guys, but Pattinson still turns in a nice piece of acting.
Stewart’s Bella also feels real. The movie nails the insecurities of teen girls; for instance, when Bella meets Edward’s family, she frets more about whether or not they’ll like her than whether or not they’ll eat her. Stewart displays the character’s personality well, even if it’s not especially clear why all the guys in town seem smitten by her. Seriously – when Bella turns down a boy’s request to go to the prom, we’re supposed to view super-sexy Anna Kendrick as the consolation prize?
By the way, am I the only one who thinks Bella gives off a crazy stalker girlfriend vibe? Maybe I’ve met too many nutty women and I’m over-sensitive, but look at the way she freaks out when Edward threatens to leave her. She seems pretty obsessed. Females will probably see this in the “she wants to be with her one true love” way, but as a guy I think Edward should look forward to taking out restraining orders and to finding bunnies boiled in pots.
Well, maybe we’ll get that in the sequel. While I can’t claim I’ll be first in line at the multiplex when the next chapter of the series arrives, I can say that I enjoyed Twilight more than I anticipated. The movie offers a good little character drama/romance with a supernatural side that gives it an edge. The film falters at times but has enough going for it to entertain.