Twilight opens with Kristen Stewart, the new princess of the flat affect, morosely narrating “I never gave much thought to how I would die.” That’s your first clue — if the desaturated gray-on-white cinematography hadn’t already clued you in — that this isn’t going to be a bubbly night at the movies. Adapted from the first novel in Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular series, Twilight is a quiet and unemphatic smudge of a movie, wherein a human girl, Stewart’s Bella Swan, moves to a rainy Washington State town and encounters a strange boy, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Edward is obsessed with Bella the minute he lays his color-changing eyes on her, because he can read everyone else’s mind but hers. Oh, yes, and he’s also a vampire. But that’s okay, because the vampire clan he’s from are “vegetarians” — they feed on animal blood, not human. There are other local vampires, though, who aren’t so nice. Bella thinks Edward is awfully pretty, especially when he twinkles in the daylight.

Yes, this material is terribly purple. And it shrewdly targets the same soft spots of the same demographic — teenage girls and wishful-thinking older women — that has kept doomed-romance stories going since Tristan and Isolde. But the gifted director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown) approaches Twilight as another portrait in her gallery of teen angst. She doesn’t go at the film as the first in a likely lucrative franchise; she makes it a Catherine Hardwicke film, convincing in small, everyday details. She doesn’t quite know what to do with the supernatural elements, which always seem to throw off the tone, though the scenes of Edward taking Bella on a hop between various high trees are nicely accomplished.

Edward must protect Bella from the bad vampires, but also from himself. Wearing his hair in a James Dean near-pompadour, Robert Pattinson speaks in an intimate hush, both surprised and frightened by letting someone else in. He doesn’t look like much in photos, but he knows how to smolder; he does most of the heavy lifting, while Kristen Stewart, largely so laid-back she’s hardly there, throws away her lines as if she wanted to get back to her trailer as soon as possible. Edward complains that he can’t read Bella; we know how he feels.

The film’s gun-metal look rubs the eyes raw after a while, but Twilight is mostly elegantly put together, though anything having to do with the pack of bad vampires is disastrous — there’s a ridiculous West Side Story shot of the rival vamps growling at each other. Other than that, the movie is appealingly low-key, with eternal love blossoming among the grim rainclouds and plaid flannel of the Pacific Northwest. As usual, Hardwicke seems most interested in the rapport between teenage girls, and Bella’s cop father, a stoic fellow with undertones of sadness, is handled sensitively.

It’s entirely possible to admire Twilight for its directorial craft without falling for Stephenie Meyer’s particular brand of forbidden love. I’ll be curious to see whether the other directors of this franchise can find interesting things in it or just whorishly bow to the bestselling material.

Explore posts in the same categories: adaptation, fantasy, romance

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