Hello fellow movie buffs. In honor of Halloween this weekend, I wanted to take some time to
roast analyze the cult classic Twilight, the movie I regularly watched on Halloween for many years.
This movie requires no introduction, but in case you have been living under a rock: Twilight, released in 2008 and based on Stephanie Meyer’s 2005 novel, follows Bella Swan as she moves to the dreary town of Forks, Washington, and falls in love with local bad boy Edward Cullen. Plot twist – Edward is a vampire who has to resist the urge to kill her at any moment. Why do people associate danger with romance or sexiness? I’ve never understood that.
Bella Swan is the definition of a “pick me girl.” The intent of her character is to serve as a “self-insert” for the average teen girl watching, but this “relatability” comes at the expense of her own complex personality. Throughout the series, her sole motivation is to be with Edward and immerse herself in his supernatural world. The supernatural elements of the story are fascinating. Still, Bella’s internal monologue doesn’t translate well to the screen and centering the story in her narrow perspective limits the exciting potential of the series.
Edward Cullen is dangerous. From the second he and Bella lock eyes in biology class, he is her magnet – attracted and repulsed in equal measure. This tension would make for an interesting dynamic if he didn’t wait so long to explain his unique condition to Bella. In addition to a thoroughly confusing first act, Edward does enough creepy shit for ten restraining orders, from sneaking into her bedroom to slowly isolating her from her human support system. His justifications for his actions can only go so far, and any self-respecting woman would keep her distance from a fellow like him.
Charlie Swan is the only character with a brain cell. Bella inherited her social awkwardness from her father, but their connection is endearing nonetheless. In addition to raising an unresponsive teen, Charlie deals with a lack of closure from Bella’s mom, and Bella’s abrupt departure in the third act breaks his heart a second time. Basically, Charlie is a small-town dad trying his best, and he isn’t given enough credit.
While Edward has six melodramatic vampire siblings to play off of, Jessica Stanley is the sole comic relief for Bella’s angst. Anna Kendrick doesn’t get enough credit for being the second balancing character in the entire movie, offsetting the heartfelt conversations about eternal love with commentary on the Cullens’ apparent weirdness (paraphrased from her book Scrappy Little Nobody).
Bella and Edward’s interactions go from stiff and awkward to lifesaving and intense in the blink of one car wreck. While Bella’s anger comes off as forceful and inauthentic in this scene, Edward’s chronic internal anger (and outright gaslighting) subtly overpowers her.
A second issue with the intensity of the story is that these characters are never allowed to be physically intimate beyond a few kisses. The “surface-level purity” of the story is incongruous with the supernatural elements. One could argue that Edward’s desire to “bite” Bella is a very obvious metaphor for sex, which aligns with the themes of Dracula. This makes sense, as vampires are a metaphor for sexuality, and they have been since Dracula was published in 1897. The irony is that Stephenie Meyer has proclaimed her Mormon faith proudly, and she actively avoids or represses the sexual overtones of her genre. The scene in the meadow shows the most sexual tension in all of the first three books, but it’s short and leaves both characters (and viewers) feeling unresolved. Downplaying the mounting sexual tension between the characters is another way the film’s intensity feels forced and overwrought.
Director Catherine Hardwicke deserves plenty of credit for creating an iconic color palette associated with the first film. The Twilight franchise deftly uses distinct color palettes for each movie, and the connection between color and emotion is clearly conveyed and utilized. For the first film, the blue/green/gray palette evokes a wistful melancholy that emphasizes the intended emotional weight of the story.
While the color palette and nature shots are expertly executed, some of the visual effects fall flat. The effects meant to show the super speed and strength of these vampires are so clearly computer generated, and they distract from the scenes.
30 minutes in, Bella deadpans to Edward, “you know your mood swings are kind of giving me whiplash,” and viewers are likely to agree. Since this is a film adaption of a novel, Bella’s internal monologue is left out, leaving unfamiliar viewers confused. This confusion attempts to build “suspense” on the way to an inevitable conclusion, so the first 20 minutes of the film are pointless. While the pacing of the reveal is painfully slow, all of Bella and Edward’s dramatic interactions happen in hyper speed. The villain doesn’t appear until the third act, but his appearance changes the genre from a sappy romance to a high-stakes action thriller. The short tone shift is exciting but underdeveloped. The ambiguous ending of the first film makes sense, but the focus is still on the limited romance rather than the epic, ongoing supernatural conflicts.
Overall, Twilight sets up an epic series but fails to give enough context to fully immerse viewers. Additionally, the “sanitization” of these teens’ lives is comic in contrast with the intense themes, and this dissonance can pull viewers out of the story. Much like Bella herself, the film is caught between two worlds, two genres – and it takes too long to decide where it belongs. I’ll give this film a generous 6/10 for interesting concepts and a strong aesthetic. Four points were lost for underdeveloped characters and a whiplash narrative. It’s an interesting study of story structure and pop culture impact, but it might not make the Great American Canon. 🙂
Happy Halloween to those who celebrate! I hope you have a safe and fun weekend.