Film Torments: The Twilight Saga (2008-2012)
THIS week on Film Torments, Rich subjects himself to ten straight hours of the same fucking thing. That’s right, true believers – it’s The Twilight Saga (because anything can be a saga).
I’ve taken on some pretty popular films in Torments; Braveheart, Space Jam and Seven Pounds all have their defenders. I’m not interested in picking on easy targets unless there’s a significant fanbase for it whose motivation eludes me. This month, I decided to grab my shotgun and take aim at a multi-million dollar barrelful of sparkly, blood-sucking fish. That’s right: I’m taking on Twilight.
Stephanie Meyer’s Mormon ode to the irresistibleness of muscular murderers needs no introduction. The first Twilight book is still a few months shy of its tenth birthday, yet within that decade it has enjoyed a reputation as both a phenomenon and a public menace simultaneously. The present state of YA literature was built upon the foundation of Harry Potter and sadly hobbled by Twilight. Hell, I picked up a copy of the first book back in 2007 in a well-manipulated response to the promise that it was to be The Next Big Thing after Harry’s adventures came to a close.
In literary terms, the books are total drivel, with characters and plots thinner than the paper they’re written on. There has been plenty of great literature written for children which adults can enjoy on a deeper level, but this series doesn’t offer much to either. The franchise’s main appeal seems to be self-insertion. Anybody can pretend to be Bella Swan because Bella Swan isn’t anybody. She has about as much personality as a toaster, but without the warmth, or the consistent function of making bread drier and somehow tastier.
As much as everyone likes to blast Kristen Stewart’s performance, expressing emotion isn’t in the job description for the part and the “romantic” dialogue is sub-Lucas. Even otherwise talented performers like Michael Sheen, Anna Kendrick and Dakota Fanning look incompetent here. Most of the Twilight cast have proven themselves to be perfectly capable actors elsewhere (not Jamie Campbell-Bower though… can somebody please tell me why he’s an actor?)
Twilight has been around for a while now and is no longer a current fad, having been supplanted by The Hunger Games, Divergent and the work of John Green as the champions of YA. Or so I presume… I haven’t been a teenager for seven years, which is long enough that the kids who were about to become teenagers when I became an adult aren’t teenagers anymore either. That’s how out-of-touch I am. So I don’t really know if kids are still reading these books, or if watching all five of these long, tedious movies will be typical of the next generation. Maybe Twilight is already dead; or, at least, alluringly undead.
Rather than rattle off the same old complaints about Twilight’s meandering plot, cheesy acting, questionable values, lame special effects and desecration of vampire mythology, I’m going to keep my review to what I personally felt watching these movies.
They’re a delight. They are so bad. SO BAD, you guys. So bad. But they’re hilariously bad. I’ve so far only watched these movies alone, save for the last one which I watched in the cinema (more on that later) but they must be incredible fun to sit and riff on. They’re such easy snark-bait that Twilight detractors may actually be fonder of it than the fans. I’m not writing this because I hate Twilight. I’m writing this because I love Twilight.
Twilight occasionally gets swept up in ludicrous ethical debates where Meyer takes a staunch conservative stance. Bella waits for marriage before having hot steamy vampire sex, and Edward’s sexual desire for her is intertwined with his predatory lust for her blood. When Bella becomes pregnant from their first ever fang-bang (because safe sex is murder but unsafe murderers are sexy) every effort is made to make it clear that even a literal parasite eating its mother from within can NOT be aborted. It’s not a child, not a choice, kids!
In perhaps the most notorious of Twilight’s twists, the werewolf Jacob “imprints” on the newborn daughter of Bella, his crush, in order to protect her from his kin. Imprinting is a werewolf instinct where they are soul-bound to a single romantic partner for life, and will do anything in their power to protect them. In this case, Jacob realises that a baby who was born minutes before will grow up to be the love of his life, and will replace her mother in his affections. If that doesn’t sound gross and demeaning to you, please take it up with your neighbourhood feminist.
Luckily for the cast, as in the Deus Ex Paedo case I just discussed, none of the building threats in Twilight EVER have severe consequences. Bella is always just fine, and not a single sympathetic character dies even though there is the constant looming possibility that Bella might have to compromise on something. A baby is going to kill her from inside? Nah, she’s fine. Now she’s a vampire and might want to kill her own family? Nah, she’s fine. Her baby might grow into a feral child who will massacre humanity? Nah, she’s fine. The Volturi are going to kill her child to eradicate the threat? Nah, she’s fine. The. Fucking. End.
The final film, the deeply unnecessary Breaking Dawn Part 2 (this is nowhere Deathly Hallows levels of plot), climaxes with the most hilariously over-the-top scenes of carnage you’ll ever see in an otherwise drippy chick flick. And, spoiler alert, it’s all a dream sequence. The vision is justified enough by its own internal logic, but it lasts for several minutes and is more shocking and devastating (if you like the characters being massacred) than anything else in the tedious charisma vacuum you’ve been subjected to.
Bella and Edward achieve more bad-assery in that fake vision than anybody had imagined, and definitely more than Meyer had any interest in writing. When I saw that scene in the cinema, I was thrilled at how much the filmmakers relished in destroying all the wishy-washy idealism of the whole saccharine “saga”.
When grasping at straws for SOMETHING to praise non-ironically, critics often point to the pretty cinematography and a pleasant soundtrack. They’re about right. Occasionally the films surprise you with some cheeky self-awareness, and Twilight is a damn sight better at lampooning Twilight than the unwatchable spoof Vampires Suck. You get the feeling of contractual obligation from just about everyone on-screen; in interviews, Robert Pattinson in particular makes his disdain clear. Twilight cashes in so easily on the name that it doesn’t even matter when the creatives involved are openly mocking the fans.
As much as Twilight has no purpose being called great literature or great cinema, it’s still an important cultural milestone in the 21st Century. In the internet age, when a fad can seem like socio-political upheaval and a dumb movie can be Public Enemy Number One, Twilight could never have been so popular and unpopular at any other time. I’m actually glad I’ve watched the movies, so I can mock them from a learned position, and I had a damn fun time. Twilight doesn’t deserve to be influential, but it can definitely be enjoyed.
P.S.: I was Team Jacob, until Breaking Dawn. Now, I’m Team Van Helsing.