Review: ‘Twilight’ is a Love Letter to Fans, But Nothing More

There are certain things that I believe we’ve come to expect from vampire movies — they are either brutal and violent or sexy and glamorous, or both. Twilight is neither.
By  · Published on November 20th, 2008

There are certain things that I believe we’ve come to expect from vampire movies. More specifically, there are two key elements that link vampire movies together — and no, one is not that vampires drink blood — they are all either very brutal and violent or very glamorous and sexy, or both. Twilight, the first in a series of adaptations from Stephenie Meyer’s ridiculously popular book franchise, is neither of these things. Sure, its a love story between a human (Bella, played by Kristen Stewart) and a vampire (Edward, played by Robert Pattinson), but there isn’t much about it that is sexy. As well, Twilight employs a very brooding, almost uneventful story with small, moderately successful bursts of action — but I wouldn’t exactly call it brutal or violent. And by this logic, Twilight is barely a vampire movie — in fact, if you strip away the existence of vampires altogether, it is just another talky, brooding teen drama akin to what you might see on The CW. Or at least, that is what it is on the surface.

Below the very prosaic and cold story, a tone that I’m told reflects the book’s very accurately, there are some definite wins here — it isn’t all bad. First and foremost, the film appears to be a big, wet, sloppy kiss to fans everywhere. There is an attention to detail and sense of self-awareness that will keep the built-in fanbase, also known as the Twilighters, engaged throughout. Director Catherine Hardwicke’s faithfulness to the source material and her affection for the fans is so deep, however, that it might leave the casual onlooker feeling like someone sitting amidst a crowd of hundreds, all of whom are part of some inside joke. Twihards, as they like to be called, won’t care too much about this as they will be too busy drooling over Edward and Bella’s star-crossed romance come to life.

As well, Catherine Hardwicke once again shows herself to be a very versatile director. Her work on Lords of Dogtown was very different from the work she did on Thirteen, and Twilight shows a continued honing of her storytelling skills. Her biggest stamp on the film, though, is the look and feel of the film. It stands to reason that this is how it should be given her extensive background as a production designer on movies such as Vanilla Sky and Three Kings, but it is impressive nonetheless. The film has a very distinctive look and feel to it — a very cold, pale palette that works well with the story she is trying to tell. She does get herself into a bit of trouble, though, when she lets her “Michael Bay complex” shine through and tries to get cute with some camera work. What starts as an attempt to be hip and cool ends up being jarring and annoying.

That leads me to my next point, the very unbalanced visual effects work. I was stunned — nay, shocked — to see Industrial Light & Magic listed in the credits, as there are moments in this film that feel less like ILM and more like Some Random Dude And His Van special effects. The baseball scene, which is the first time where we really get to see the good vampires unwind and show off their fun side, is very well done. But there are other moments in the film, key action shots that are meant to show the progression of Edward and Bella’s relationship that just look silly — it is almost as if the visual effects team in post-production forgot to remove the wires.

As for Twilight’s cast, well, they are passable. There are supporting performances that are a bit overdone, but also add a little life to the story. Most notable of which is the performance of Anna Kendrick, who plays Jessica, one of the few interesting humans. She delivers some very vacant, yet fun moments that keep things light and somewhat entertaining. As well, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson play well off of each other. Their courting might be the most annoyingly brooding and uncomplicated love story ever committed to film, but they don’t make it any worse, delivering performances that feel relatively authentic, at least in the world where their characters exist.

Ultimately the problem I see with Twilight is that it is a two hour movie where almost nothing happens. The most exciting parts of the film happen either off film or are buried in little hints at what is to come one or two films down the line. For the average moviegoer — the kind of person who has not yet picked their side in the epic Team Edward/Team Jacob battle — this is just another teen love story, just with vampires. The film has the touch of a very capable director while showing some glaring mistakes and shoddy effects that you would expect to see on primetime television. But in the end, it is really hard to pick and poke away at Twilight — it is what it is. And it works for what it needs to be. Is it a movie that will delight the deeply devoured followers of Stephenie Meyer? Absolutely. Does that mean that it will transcend its fan base and capture an audience elsewhere? Not likely.

If you are looking for a brutal and violent, merciless vampire movie or a sexy, glamorous one, there are plenty of other places to look. If you are, however, member of the converted, then this is your movie. And as far as I’m concerned, you can keep it.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)