Twilight is some kind of misguided masterpiece. It’s as if director Catherine Hardwicke and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg ran a tap into the heady mix of adolescent hormones that runs in the veins of Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling YA books, added vivid cinematography and flashes of wit, and served it up virtually unadulterated by any mature perspective. If you are or can remember being a teenage girl, it’s sort of great. If not, well, it works as semi-intentional comedy.
Kristen Stewart — Jodie Foster’s weird little daughter from Panic Room, still ashen-pale and gravel-voiced — plays Bella Swan, our heroine. And a heroine she is — no mere protagonists here. When Bella moves to the rainy hamlet of Forks, Washington, to live with her divorced dad, all the boys in town instantly want to date her. Well, almost all. There’s also that clique of standoffish, bloodless supermodel types who hang out in their own corner of the lunch room.
Things get moving when a member of this mysterious crowd becomes Bella’s lab partner. Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) really, really doesn’t like Bella — you can tell by his horrified glare, which Hardwicke frames in intense, risible close-ups. No, wait, maybe he likes her too much. That may be why he always pops up in time to save her from random mortal dangers, and also why he hangs out in her room while she sleeps. It sounds creepy, but that’s OK — see, Edward’s a vampire, and the mere scent of Bella’s blood is his “heroin.” Stalking is so sexy when it’s done by the brooding undead.
Meyer has suggested that she conceived Edward as a mix of Mr. Darcy, Heathcliff and Romeo. It’s hard to say how one boy could combine a snob with a good heart, a wild-child psychopath and a hot-blooded Renaissance aristocrat, but Pattinson does his damnedest. Glaringslash-leering at Bella, he’s a cartoon of handsomeness, all jutting chin and brows and gelled hair, and the audience soon starts dissolving in giggles every time he appears.
In these early scenes, it’s tempting to see Twilight as a parody of Meyer’s work rather than an adaptation. But as it progresses, Hardwicke starts to sell the romance. She’s aided by the moody blues and greens of the Pacific Northwest and its scenic vistas. When Edward and Bella walk in the woods, the camera swoops in and out of the lush foliage and circles them in a swoony, dream-like way. When they talk in a dim, funky restaurant, the world seems to shrink to their table. When they dance at the prom, they seem alone in a haze of fairy lights and emo music. The whole thing is reminiscent of the virginal but covertly smoldering courtship of Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
Which is odd, considering Twilight comes from the creative mind of a practicing Mormon. But repression generates a mighty erotic charge, as all Victorian novelists knew. Though Edward subsists on non-human blood, like all upstanding vampires in modern fiction, he has to fight his instincts in order to stay close to Bella, and his blood lust is a pretty transparent metaphor for . . . the other kind. Strip away the fantasy and goth trappings, and it’s a story of how teenage girls fear the intensity of their own desires — and their boyfriends’.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” handled the same theme with far more wit and wisdom, but it never got deep into the craziness at the root of these romantic fantasies. Hardwicke does that while populating the film’s world with characters who offer much-needed distraction from the love story. As Bella’s sheriff dad, Billy Burke is the rare manly man on screen, and he looks right at home cleaning his guns with brewskis at his side. Anna Kendrick (Rocket Science) is a hoot as a snarkily self-centered high school pal.
If you want to be reminded that vampires can still be subjects for chilling, thought-provoking art, see Let the Right One In. But for a pure shot of potent pop-culture delusion, it’s Twilight time.