Fright Fest 2018: Twilight (2008)
Release year: 2008
Staring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Anna Kendrick, Peter Facinelli, Billy Burke, and Elizabeth Reaser
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Review by: Justin Park
When Thomas S Flowers announced his annual Fright Fest review series would be themed around vampire movies, I scrolled down the list of potential films to see such classics as Martin, Near Dark and The Hunger. But I was surprised not to find Twilight amongst the titles.
The book series became such a hit I don’t really need to introduce them. Whether you’ve read them or not, you are all probably aware they were written by Stephanie Meyer, you’re all probably aware of the name Edward Cullen, and you are all aware, like it or not, that when exposed to sunlight the vampires in this series sparkle. The reason we all know this is the books became a massive hit, spawning a series of successful films and cemented themselves in popular culture. And isn’t that the goal for most writers and film makers? Isn’t that the success people dream of?
Its influence was far reaching and regenerated vampires like Interview With A Vampire had done a decade before it. And one could ask, would the Vampire Chronicles or Vampire Diaries have been greenlit without the success of Twilight?
With all that in mind, I didn’t think a series of vampire film reviews would be complete without Twilight amongst its ranks.
Having never watched it before, or read the books, I thought I would take up the challenge. So leaving my preconceptions at the door, I took a look to see what it was all about…
We begin with a POV run through the woods, and a chase with a young deer. It’s all very An American In Werewolf-lite, and not a bad start. Threat, drama and intrigue.
After that, we settle into the plot. The story centres around Bella, a high-schooler from Arizona, who moves to rainy Washington to live with her Dad, after her Mum heads out on the road with her new baseball-playing boyfriend. Moving to a new school, Bella quickly makes friends despite having a seeming inability to make any other facial expression other than a strange, almost vacant frown. Her lack of character is very quickly established, and the film does nothing to inject her with any likeable qualities through the rest of its run time.
It’s not long before we meet the Cullens – a bunch of kids that live with foster parents. The weird thing is they are couples who are together “like together, together”. They all look pale, with strange coloured eyes and they disappear from school on sunny days. After a brief introduction to them walking through the canteen we have Edward Cullen make his entrance, or at least, his hair makes an entrance, then his eyebrows, and then the rest of him, looking all frowny and moody.
He sits down and stares at Bella across the canteen.
And then begins the most awkward representation of sexual tension ever committed to celluloid. The pair just stare at each other for the next third of the film, biting lips and frowning. I assume this is supposed to be brooding tension, an uncontrollable lust, the flowering of romance that neither one can tame. Except it’s just staring.
One might even call it leering.
If I tried the Cullen way of picking up chicks I’d probably get arrested, or kicked in the knackers from an angry woman pissed off with my creepy demeanour.
The staring wouldn’t be so bad if the actors emoted with their faces, but they don’t, and I can’t work out if this is a problem with the actors or the direction they were given. The consistency of their emo expressions would lead me to believe this a style choice from the film’s creative driving force, but its lack of humour only serves to make these scenes more hilarious.
So Bella and Edward do a lot of staring and looking moody. In the meantime we find a potential love rival with Jacob. Jacob is attracted to Bella from a childhood crush he had years ago. We learn that Jacob’s family and the Cullen’s don’t get on. An old story goes that Jacob’s clan and family were descended from wolves, so although this film never out right says it, it’s pretty obvious Jacob is a werewolf. Why do we have werewolves? This criticism isn’t reserved just for Twilight. There’s a ton of books and movies that seem to think it’s perfectly fine to mix vampires and werewolves, almost as if it’s a necessity. I mean why?! Why must you have to mix the two? Why not poltergeists and aliens, or Godzilla and zombies?
Anyway, Bella finds out that Edward is a vampire from the internet, because she managed to stay away from facebook or pictures of cats long enough to find exactly what she’s looking for, and makes the logically leap that he’s vampire, because he shows superhuman traits – even though these aren’t classic vampire traits. Nice work Bella, you must have read the book!
He shows her his powers, and his sparkly skin in the sunlight. With this confession laid bare the two fall in love, which means A WHOLE LOAD MORE STARING. Seriously, there’s this scene where they are both lying on the grass staring into each other’s eyes whilst the camera spins around them. Is this love? Is this romance? Has my heart grown so cold and black that I can’t recognise soul-melting tenderness anymore? Have I finally become a psychopath?!
They then make it official and walk into school holding hands. “Everyone’s staring” they whisper to each other. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Makes a change from you two!!!
Edward gives us a brief understanding of vampires. They are ‘vegetarian’ vampires in that they drink animal blood. Of course we never actually see them drink animal blood, or how they get it. Are they stealing dogs from people’s gardens and supping on fido’s blood under the cover of darkness? Or are they purchasing pig’s blood from a slaughterhouse? We don’t know, because this movie doesn’t want us to get into the messy, horrid facts of being vampire – you know, the interesting bits. He also importantly explains that human blood sends them into a frenzy, one that they might not be able to pull themselves out of. Which does beg the question why does the Cullen ‘father’ work as a doctor? Surely he’s surrounded by blood all the time. Man, that guy must have better self-control than Sting at the Play Boy Mansion.
Edward also explains his origins, which is so boring it’s covered in 30 seconds. The main point is that it makes Edward around a hundred years old. This is not a point to be overlooked when thinking about his attraction to Bella. He’s 100. She’s about 17. 100. 17. It’s a common fact that the older you get, the less in common you have with the young, and the more you see just how irritating they are. If you’re anything from 23 upwards then after ten minutes in the company of a group of seventeen year olds you’ll be looking for the nearest wall to smash your face into repeatedly. Believe me, the older you get, the more that desire increases. So imagine when you’re 100!
Anyway, the plot finally emerges with ten minutes left of the film. The Cullens all take Bella out to play baseball with them. A trio of vampires pass through. Turns out they’ve been killing people in the area. The Cullens ask them to leave, and they say sorry and promise they’ll leave. Then one of them (James) notices that Bella is a human – which of course the director likes to represent this interest and realisation with a lot of…yep you guessed it: STARING!
So the Cullens freak out and Edward drives Bella away saying she can’t go home. Edward explains to us that the vampire is a hunter and now he is obsessed. He will stop at nothing to hunt Bella. Talk about tell and not show. Why can’t we explore the motivation for this? Understand the desire and see the effect it has on the Vampire, James? Well we can’t. We’ve been told the plot in 30 seconds, and that’s all we’re getting.
James is indeed obsessed and travels across the country to find her, eventually luring her to her old dance school. Bella gets attacked. Edward fights James. Then the rest of the Cullens show up and together they defeat James. They don’t just knock him down but they pull him apart and burn him. Brutal! Sadly, this is shown out of focus in the background of the shot whilst the attention is kept on the clearly more interesting shot of Bella’s stoic reaction. Bella is bleeding from the fight, but luckily plot convenience saves her as none of the vampires go into the blood frenzy Edward warned us about, not even the youngest vampire that’s been struggling with his desires throughout the movie.
The film ends with Bella and Edward at the school prom. There’s a sly scene here, where we think Eddie-boy is going to give her the old neck full of teeth routine and turn her to the dark side, but he doesn’t. It subverted my expectations so much that I wondered if Rian Johnson had been a fan and was taking notes in the cinema.
As the film closes we see Victoria, James’ female companion, watch over the pair with an evil look in her eye.
As I said at the start ‘Wow’.
I wanted to like this film. I wanted to find some kind of redeeming features in it.
But I can’t.
The vampire element to the film is a poorly wasted opportunity. The film spends some time with Edward moodily declaring himself a killer, but when we meet the Cullens it’s all happy families. Why don’t we see the messier end of their predicament? The drinking of the animal blood. A relapse into eating humans. The fighting of the desire. Sadly with this element, they tell us in dialogue, but don’t show. I have pulled apart amateur manuscripts for doing this, so why does a Hollywood blockbuster think they can get away with it?
Of course, you may argue that this isn’t really a vampire flick. That the vampire theme is only the framing element, and the central story is more a romance.
Okay, but if I look at it through the lens of lurve, it still fails. The attempt at building romance is laughable. This element goes the other way, in that they show without any tell. What would presumably have internal dialogue and conflict in a novel, is instead shown in the film as just endless scenes of staring. It doesn’t work, and becomes a joke. If you are to play the gender card at me (‘it’s a film for woman not men’), then are you telling me that woman wants a guy to creep into their house and secretly watch them sleep for two months, night after night? Damn. No wonder I’m single.
And of the story? All ten minutes of it, that happened at the end. The jumbled, garbled, half explained climax. It really wasn’t worth the wait. If I need to explain why here, then you haven’t been paying attention, and I direct you back to the body of this review.
So that was Twilight. I’m going to assume that the books offered more detail and provided a more satisfying story, but I can only judge the film. Its literary sibling will have to remain an untaken challenge.
But what do I see before me in the boxset of DVDs borrowed from my Mum? Four more films!
I think at heart I must be a masochist. I have a fascination and genuine love for terrible films, and perhaps this franchise might a series of howlers too good to pass up.
What is wrong with me?
Maybe Edward Cullen was right when he said it. “It’s like a drug to me. It’s like you’re my own personal brand of heroin.”
Who said romance was dead?
J. R. Park is a writer of Horror Fiction based in Bristol, UK, and co-founder of the publishing imprint the Sinister Horror Company. His novels have all been well received by readers and reviewers, even if the sick bucket hasn’t been too far away from their bedsides. Art house, pulp and exploitation alike inform his inspirations, as well as misheard conversations, partially remembered childhood terrors and cheese before sleep.