If you’re all jazzed about Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight, reading this review is only going to annoy you. The thing is critic-proof and has a presold fan base. And since it appears to reproduce the goopy smoldering teen romance of the books in all its madly purple glory, it will likely find ready favor with that fan base. In that respect, Twilight fulfills its aims. In every other capacity, it’s a dreadful movie that compounds its dreadfulness by being remarkably boring in the bargain. The only reason it rates a full star is because of fleeting moments of unintentional hilarity.
It probably didn’t help matters that I saw Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In the night before. This often brilliant new vampire film from Sweden—which deals with even younger characters—is the anti-Twilight. It’s thoughtful, moving and disturbing, while managing to remember it’s a horror film. Twilight is none of these things. Twilight is a product. Let the Right One In is a film. Not that I wouldn’t have found Twilight a miserable mess on its own merits, I just would not have had such a fresh-on-the-mind counterpoint to its stunning mediocrity.
For those not in the know, Twilight is part of a series of teen-centric vampire romance novels by a woman named Stephenie Meyers. The admirers—and those who want to sell the books—are prone to calling the series the “new Harry Potter.” If the motivations and plotting of the film accurately reflect its literary source, J.K. Rowling is Dostoevsky by comparison.
The story centers on Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart, Jumper), a young lady with a deathly pallor (and she’s not a vampire) who goes to live with her police chief father (Billy Burke, Untraceable) in the small Washington town of Forks. (The reasons for this move are too convoluted to bother with and don’t matter anyway.) It’s a dreary sort of place where it rains pretty much all the time, but it’s there that she meets the even more pallid Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), part of a group of equally blanched folks, who are either an itinerant mime group or vampires. If Lord Byron had been the love child of James Van Der Beek and Jack Elam and shopped at Hot Topic, he’d have looked a lot like Edward. This—and the fact that Edward glowers at the camera with the intensity of a mopey twink on a porn site—means that Bella is immediately smitten.
By my reckoning, Edward is about 108 years old (he was vampirized in 1918 as an alternative to dying in a flu epidemic), making his all-consuming attraction to this callow semi-goth girl either hard to grasp or incredibly shallow. (I kept being reminded of Jeffrey Combs’ line to the libidinous David Gale in Re-Animator: “You steal the secret of life and death and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed co-ed.”) Of course, Edward mostly seems to view Bella as a box lunch he must deny himself (being a “vegetarian” vampire who only lives on animal blood, you see). Bella, on the other hand, is all set to consummate. Much soulful staring ensues between the two (my money says that Edward is really staring at his own reflection in the camera lens). In fact, this seems to take up about half the movie.
When something finally does happen, it’s not much, consisting entirely of bad vampire James (Cam Gigandet) attempting to make a meal out of Bella. (When reacting to Edward, Gigandet unfortunately does not use his line from Never Back Down: “There’s only one way this can end—with you looking like a bitch.”) The resulting action is neither tense, nor surprising, nor very horrific—even by PG-13 standards. But really, this isn’t so much about vampires as it is about teen hormones, even if one of the teens is 100-plus years old and damned for all eternity to attend high school. (Now we know what Bela Lugosi meant when he said, “There are far worse things awaiting man than death.”)
A friend of mine defends the books on the basis of the fact that at least teens are reading something, expressing the belief that this will lead them to reading books with more substance. I’m skeptical. This looks less like the path to reading James Baldwin or Kurt Vonnegut than the direct road to Barbara Cartland. In much the same way, I don’t see the film leading young viewers to Ingmar Bergman—maybe to Renny Harlin or Uwe Boll. Maybe. If there is one positive thing I gained from seeing Twilight, it’s simply that after seeing vampire baseball, I will never, never, never complain about a Quidditch match in a Harry Potter movie ever again. Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality.