A cornball Harlequin romance with a Romeo and Juliet-like love story between a human girl and a vampire boy provides surprisingly effective fodder for Catharine Hardwicke’s moody, atmospheric, almost captivating Twilight.
Based on the first novel in Stephenie Meyer’s hugely successful series of books – a young reader’s next step up from Harry Potter – there is absolutely nothing in the material to suggest it might make a successful big-screen adaptation; I certainly didn’t walk in expecting anything more than a pre-teen paen.
All credit to director Hardwicke then, as I was floored by this undeniably well-crafted film; the young fans that have helped make this one of the year’s biggest hits should be more than satisfied.
After her mother remarries, young Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves from Arizona to the Pacific Northwest to live with her father in a small Washington town. No uneasy high school transition – she instantly makes some new friends before she walks in the school doors.
But she also becomes interested in the creepy Goth kids – all foster children of local doctor Carlisle Cullen – particularly the hunky Edward (Robert Pattinson), who leaves Biology class upon seeing (and smelling) her, and doesn’t return for days.
When he does come back, however, a mutual attraction brings the two together and they begin to fall in love – despite Edward’s mixed signals and an insistence that they “shouldn’t be friends.” That’s because Edward is different, something that becomes apparent to Bella when he saves her from an oncoming truck, and later, from a group of rowdy boys.
This mixed with some local legend provided by friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner), and Bella is able to deduce that he is, yes, a vampire.
Of course, every story needs to throw its own spin on the vampire legend, and these vampires – not just Edward, but his entire foster family – don’t mind sunlight (they just sparkle a bit), can only be killed if they’re “torn into pieces and burned,” and have super strength and speed and possibly some other powers; Edward can read minds, sister Alice (Ashley Greene) can see the future, sort of.
They’re also ‘vegetarians’ – that is, they only eat animal meat, not human. They still lust for human blood, though, which causes some complications for the two lovebirds. But Bella warmly welcomed into the vampire gang, even joining them for a friendly game of superhuman baseball.
Complications arise when a rival gang of vampires – some that aren’t vegetarians – discover Bella in the Cullen’s midst and decide to hunt her down.
Beautiful cinematography (by Elliot Davis) and sparse use of music (by Carter Burwell) create a richly atmospheric film that is, for a good while, captivating. I’d be lying if I said things didn’t start to get silly once the vampire plot is fleshed out, but the film is enchanting in its first hour.
Twilight is made for a very specific audience (preteen girls), who should eat it up, but I think the rest of us can at least appreciate the care and conviction that Hardwicke has brought to the potentially laughable material.
One true detriment: cheesy special effects – including a spectacularly awful piggyback ride up a mountain – that would feel more at home in an episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Still, for a blockbuster-level film on what feels like a tight budget, the producers can’t be complaining.
Recalls a number of other films, especially those from the Anne Rice pantheon, but for me most notably Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent Near Dark. I wish Twilight skewed just a little more adult, like that film (I mean, come on – the vampires here are far less threatening than the teen girls in Hardwicke’s Thirteen), but I’ll take what I can get.
Door is left open for a sequel – or 3 or 4 – which will undoubtedly come, though I wouldn’t expect this level of quality next time around.