Rated: PG-13 :: Released: 21 November 2008
Director: Catherine Hardwicke :: Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner
By Preston Nelson
27 September 2012 — Almost a year ago, I sat through The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part One. That movie had a profound effect on me. I've sat through and loved some truly shitty movies, but I had never seen anything quite like that film. I had never seen a movie that truly and honestly hated it's core audience so much. Women flock to the Twilight movies, and these movies fucking hate them for it. Even the actors hate it. After seeing the fourth movie in the series, I made a solemn vow: I would go back to the beginning. I would watch these films, and I would figure out exactly what the hell is happening. This is the first attempt. This is Twilight.
I'm not going to insult you, you're not going to insult me. You know the story. Bella Swan moves to Washington, meets mysterious boy, turns out he's a vampire, and a whole lot of sex doesn't happen. There are vampires that aren't pussies, and the movie ends. It's a fairly simple story, really. The question is, how does it all go so wrong? Other than the aforementioned women-hating, I think I pinpointed the problem almost immediately. These are films made competently, adapting awful source material. I'm going to list off some of the people involved, and some of the things you might know them from.
It was directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who worked on movies like Brain Dead and Tombstone. Yes. The Tombstone with Val Kilmer. Billy Burke, who has been in everything, forever, plays Bella's father. And in a just world, he would have 80 movies featuring him killing terrorists and kicking corrupt business executives out of high rise windows. The Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick shows up here, but I can forgive her because it's like her third movie and she shows off some impressive cleavage. Ned Bellamy, a quintessential "that guy," is in the movie for a cup of coffee. And the original score was written by Carter Burwell, who has made some of the greatest scores of the last 20 years. Even the young actors and actresses I've never seen before are very solid, with few exceptions. Taylor Lautner rocks one of the worst wigs in the history of film, but his time in the film is brief enough and he's charismatic enough that he's a bit fun. Robert Pattison is a very good actor in a lot of other movies, and he's trying his best here.
And then there's Kristen Stewart. I'm not going to touch her recent troubles, but I think it speaks volumes on how she became famous, because she obviously cannot act her way out of a paper bag. This isn't a criticism on her perceived lack of emotion; I can buy that her interpretation of the character is stoic, reserved, and introverted. That's just fine. The problem is when she isn't blankly staring off into space. In this film, Bella Swan has three facial expressions, the aforementioned blank is the first. The second is "orgasming her pants off." If she actually had a sex scene in the film, this may be acceptable, but it's really off-putting in scenes where she's just looking at Edward Cullen, nearly being raped by a gang of thugs, having dinner with her father, or dying of some vampire venom thing. And while I love the "orgasming her pants off" face, it's the third face that I consider the finest in unintentional comedy: I call it the "emotional overload seizure." In this example, Miss Stewart has found the best way to convey any traumatic emotion is to do the following:
01. Tighten your jaw, tensing the muscles, but allow your top teeth to protrude over your top lip.
02. Flare your nostrils to the point that a well-placed camera can see into your brain.
03. Blink uncontrollably, in a manner that no human could understand.
04. Set your neck to "vibrate" and turn the speed up to maximum.
Congratulations, you forgot how to act! Use this face to convey a variety of emotions. Love! Rage! Fear! Some fourth thing! And honestly, I could forgive this interpretation of Bella Swan if she was portrayed as anything other than absolutely perfect, despite being the worst hero ever committed to celluloid. (At least Tommy Wiseau had the grace to shoot himself in The Room.) Despite her apparent inability to even act like a human being, Bella is besieged by new friends and potential suitors the second she arrives in her new home. Literally, the second she steps into the parking lot, an ambiguously gay Asian boy is offering to be her friend. She's then surrounded by at least four more normal teenage kids and a fairly effective teacher, and she could not care less. These kind, genuine people are all too "blah" for Bella, and she's bored with the entire town until a fan blows her body odor onto Edward — which is apparently the vampire equivalent of Axe Body Spray, because he just about vomits. From there, the psychologically terrifying romance begins.
In the end, it's the "perfection" of both Edward and Bella that ruin this movie. The universe, in and of itself, isn't unappealing. There are a thousand directions that could make this movie work. Chief of Police Charlie Swan hunts down vampires, and is eventually aided by the Cullen Clan. Focus on any other member of the Cullen family, tell their story. (I seem to have a soft spot for Emmett for some reason, with his Teen Wolf-esque car surfing and scowling.) Or even, have Edward turn out to be the fucking monster he claims to be, wherein he kills Bella, drinks her blood, and no one mourns her because she's a moron. It's that conflict that sickens me and so many people so deeply. Bella and Edward have a textbook abusive relationship. Would Twilight be so romantic if Edward was a heroin addict or a violent schizophrenic? Would women love it so much if Bella was a Stockholm case to a man who harbored a deep desire to eat her flesh, even if he didn't sparkle? Edward systematically separates her from her new friends and father, substituting his own family. He breaks into her room through the window and watches her sleep, for months. He's taking a girl, with obviously low self-esteem — a girl who constantly reminds herself how antisocial, clumsy, and unattractive she is — and he is preying upon her. When Edward speaks about his powers, he refers to himself as the perfect predator, and boy, did he hit that nail on the head. Edward is the textbook domineering male abuser. Of course, I can't place all the blame on Edward. Bella is clearly in need of intense psychological counseling. Her own safety and well-being means nothing to her. When being hunted by another vampire (RE: her impressive body odor), Edward tells Bella to leave. She refuses. She's injured by this mean vampire. She lies to her parents and doctor about the nature of her injury — by telling them she "fell down the stairs." Have these people no self-awareness? Have they never even heard of domestic abuse? "Fell down the stairs?" Did she hit her eye on a doorknob, too?
I'm not even writing jokes anymore. These are things that actually happened in this movie. When it tries to be serious, it's funny. When it tries to be funny, it's trite. When it tries to be romantic, it's terrifying. The movies have some decent effects and nice cinematography — barring the constantly spinning camera in the romantic scenes. The music is solid, the universe is interesting, and most of the actors are pretty decent. The problem is the plot is terrible, the dialog is worse, and the whole thing is so misogynistic, that I think it rubbed off on my dog; he just tried to murder my wife.
I started this task trying to understand what appeals to people about these films, and, honestly, I'm more confused than ever.
If you've seen this, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you almost have to watch it to see competent filmmakers and actors roll over to take a greasy dump in their own bed.
I'll be back with New Moon, next time. Until then, be a Billy Burke, not a Kristen Stewart.