Saturday, 12 November 2011

From the archive: "Twilight"

Twilight forms a two-hour advert for all things pale and interesting. Pale, interesting teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves to the small town of Forks, Washington to live with her father. She's looking for stability; instead, she catches the eye of the tall, pale and awkward Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) across the school canteen. He's a strange one, this lad, coming across as badly constipated when they're paired up in a biology lesson, and unable to get his words out when he attempts to apologise for his erratic behaviour shortly thereafter. Yet when he saves Bella from being crushed by an out-of-control vehicle in the school car park, she too becomes convinced he's a special one, or at least one with special powers. For Edward Cullen derives from a family of vampires; and while some part of Bella wants to give herself to him, he loves her for what she is, not what's running through her veins, leading him to keep his distance. Boys, eh? Pain in the neck.

Twilight has been ushered forward to fill the hole in the Christmas release schedules left by the delayed Harry Potter, but the first thing that strikes you is that this is a more immediately sophisticated proposition than any of the previous Potters. As directed by Catherine Hardwicke, of the teens-gone-wild drama Thirteen, the setting is a leafy, rainy Washington ("the wettest place in America", hence the ideal spot for creatures afraid of the sun) that takes us back in the direction of Twin Peaks. Twilight is only a 12A in comparison, but it doesn't talk down to its core audience, and allows its on-screen teenagers to be gangly, pallid and uncoordinated, recognising how their emotions (and hormones) are liable to be unruly at best. "Your mood swings are kind of giving me whiplash," Bella tells Edward, and there's something so perfect in the interjection of that "kind of" there: it could be a beautiful line, but the character's instincts won't let it be so.

The effects are TV level, the stuff of Smallville and Supernatural - in this respect, the Potter producers have nothing much to fear - and the script could do with a meatier second act: once Edward's secret is out, we get somewhat too much of his and Bella's drippy mooning (sitting up treetops, or at the piano), not enough of their potentially deadly spooning (Edward pulls away from one encounter, insisting "I can't ever lose control with you"; once more, vampirism becomes a metaphor for sex). Pattinson, a future cover star of Unthreatening Boys Weekly, is clearly going to stir up all sorts of previously unknown passions in the breast of the average 13-year-old girl, and there's a lovely, career-making performance from Stewart as a girl unsure of herself, her feelings, her own feet, even. (Jena Malone must be kicking herself that no-one got round to filming these books five years ago.) The beginnings of a fresh, likable franchise, then, with a distinctive, light-gloomy mood (these vampires hold a baseball game during a thunder storm) and pleasing traces of Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark in its vampire family mythology. Short of selling snakebite at the concession stand, Hollywood has come up with no better way of getting Goths into the multiplex.

(December 2008)

Twilight screens on Channel 4 tonight at 9pm.

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