Saw Twilight over the weekend. It was better than syphilis.
I’m also pretty sure it was better than a couple of the movies in the previews,
Bride Wars and Confessions of a Shopaholic, both of which
made me sort of want to shoot someone in the face.
Twilight is frequently dull and pretty stupid, which is an unfortunate
combination — two strikes and its almost out. It didn’t make me deeply, deeply
angry, which was a plus. It has lovely scenery and an appealing cast. And some
of the funny jokes are even intentional.
But, as a vampire movie, I just didn’t like it. As a teen romance…
well, I wouldn’t have bothered to watch it, so I’m going to talk about it as
a vampire movie.
Twilight tells a story that I know I liked when it was Buffy and Angel:
trying-to-be-good-guy vampire falls for teenage girl, struggles with his blood
lust and the other kind of lust, both of them confront trust issues, and there’s
lots of sexy temptation and whatnot. Sure, vampires struggling with abstinence
can be a metaphor for teen sex, why not?
This version doesn’t work, though, because it simply doesn’t get vampires right.
And I don’t mean because they aren’t vulnerable to holy objects, sunlight, or,
apparently, stakings — although that’s part of it. And it’s not because they
don’t have fangs, although that’s part of it. And it’s not even, good lord,
because they sparkle, although, good lord, that’s part of it.
It’s because the story uses vampires (correctly) as a metaphor for ambivalence,
and then isn’t at all ambivalent about them.
I often have this complaint in the other direction, when straight-ahead horror
movies ignore the fact that to be interesting vampires generally need to incite
some kind of seduction or sympathy, and make them simple monsters instead of
complex monsters. The problem with Twilight is that the vampires aren’t
monsters at all. AT ALL. Especially not Edward, the romantic
hero. The only thing scary about him is his enormously high 80s-band pouf of
hair, and the fact that he sparkles, and frankly, THAT’S THE WRONG KIND
Really, nothing about the movie is sufficiently scary. It takes forever for
something scary to happen, and then when it does, it’s mostly offscreen. The
good guy vampires aren’t scary, the bad guy vampires are barely scary, the tribal
native werewolves are cool but hardly on screen and they don’t get to actually
do anything scary although they manage to project the distinct sense that they
could do something scary if the situation required, which is more than
anybody else in the movie does, so, go werewolves!
The movie is certainly hampered by the source material, on all accounts. The
director did not devise the plot, or the sparkling.
Okay, let me talk about the sparkling.
Oh, my god. Sparkling.
First of all, there is no way for the sparkling not to look stupid on screen,
and that’s because there is no way for it not to look stupid in real life, which,
okay, I guess, the many fans of these novels simply never much thought about.
But worst of all it’s just a terrible gutless metaphor. These vampires hide
from sunlight because it reveals their true nature, fair enough. But couldn’t
their true nature have been something just the teensiest bit unnerving or creepy,
the tiniest bit, you know, monstrous? Like, I dunno, maybe they’re translucent
in sunlight and you can see their veins or something. That might have looked
gross and kind of stupid, but at least it would have been heading in metaphorically
the right direction.
And there’s a scene where Edward chivalrously Rescues Our Hapless Heroine Bella
from A Bunch of Port Angeles Toughs with Evil on Their Minds — it might have
been an opportunity to show Bella a little unnerved by his capacity for violence,
to make him actually seem a little scary to the audience. But, alas, no. He
doesn’t fight them by ripping limbs or even bashing heads, he just kind of —
glares at them and they back down. Then he drives away. But in the car he talks
about how he’d like to go back and kill them all!
All of Edward’s monstrous nature is telling, not showing. He tells her that
he feeds on animal blood, but we never see him actually do it. We don’t even
see a good strong indication that he does it, like, he never sniffs while a
deer walks past and says, "Just a minute" and goes running off into
the woods after it and comes back wiping his mouth.
He talks about how being in love with Bella makes him dangerous to her (well,
really, it’s some dumb thing about her very special personal scent which seems
to blow out of her hair or whatever but I just pretended that whole concept
didn’t exist and that the reason he’s so tempted by her is because he’s in love),
that he might eat her or something, but we never really see it. In
this movie intense vampire lust is played with extreme closeups where Edward
looks like he has a headache or something. And intense lust for a vampire is
played with extreme closeups where Bella flutters her eyelids like she’s about
to faint and gnaws on her lower lip. Okay, really, the human is the one doing
the gnawing? What kind of vampires are these, anyway?
Vampires who love baseball.
Which, uh, I don’t know, I guess — baseball? Maybe it could have worked in
the context of a completely different story, but the scene in this movie is
achingly cutesy, and serves only as yet another demonstration of cuddly, wholesome
vampire superpowers. And then the bad vampires show up and want to play too,
which strongly implies that all vampires love baseball, in fact, love
it so much that they are lured from afar by the distinct sounds of other vampires
hitting a ball so fast that they have to play during thunderstorms to hide the
noise from humans (in Forks??!??) and also use a special reinforced ball and
Okay, I made up that last bit. They don’t use a special reinforced ball and
bat. But they really ought to.
And… let’s talk about superpowers for a minute.
Vampires usually have superpowers — it’s part of what makes them scary. They’re
really fast, really strong, they’re immortal, they can see in the dark, maybe
they have psychic abilities, maybe they’re shapechangers, maybe they can fly.
(I don’t really mind that the vampires can fly, but I don’t like to
see it on screen because it usually ends up looking pretty stupid and this movie
is no exception. In fact, it ends up looking stupider than usual.) But the thing
that makes vampires different from superheroes is the downside — the need for
blood, the beast within, the vulnerability to ordinary things like sunlight.
Except these vampires don’t have any of that.
Leaving aside Edward’s singular blood lust for Bella, the good guy vampires
never indicate that it’s the least bit challenging for them to avoid chowing
down on human necks. They seem even less passionate and violence-prone than
regular teenagers. They’re not vulnerable to sunlight, holy objects, or silver
— in fact, it seems like the only way to kill one is to dismember him and burn
the pieces, and the only people with the strength to do that are other vampires.
(And maybe werewolves, but that’s probably in the sequel.)
It’s also astonishingly easy to become a vampire in this story. All you have
to do is get bit by a vampire that doesn’t succeed in killing you all the way.
Edward talks it up like this is very hard because vampires, once they start
to feed, find it difficult not to go all the way. (Gosh, do you think that could
be a metaphor for something?) And maybe it is hard for the vampire to just stop
on his own. But geez, it’s pretty easy to get interrupted, dude. With a scenario
like this, I need an excellent explanation for why it’s not all I Am Legend
out there and 99 percent vampire within a few years.
Also, Edward makes a big deal about not turning Bella into a vampire, but this
story gives him no conceivable reason on the face of the earth for not doing
it. In this world, there is no downside to being a vampire.
Except the sparkling thing. That would drive me nuts.
Simulcast at gothhouse.org