Friday, December 4, 2020

Suckers

I managed with little effort to miss Twilight (2008) until very recently. I knew it was intended for a young adult audience (adapted from a wildly popular series of teen novels by Stephenie Meyer) and figured it probably didn’t have any of the macabre fun of the old Universal horror classics, but I was unprepared for the lurid look and the stoned, senseless rhythm (everybody’s face, human and vampire, is the same sickly gray-green, the same color as the landscape). It’s been awhile since I’ve seen something this mediocre take itself so seriously. It looks and sounds like an Eighties rock opera in some parts and an indie chamber drama in others, and it’s unrelenting. It’s also weirdly static. In many scenes, the actors just stand there, glancing around nervously, trying to push enough air out to deliver the next line, and you wonder whether they’re parodying youth or paying tribute to it. 

Postpubes. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart
The pictorial effects are gloppy–beautiful, like an issue of Condé Nast Traveler, and despite periodic moments of suspense, the movement of characters through the frame is poorly staged, and scenes repeatedly turn into pudding before they end. The production feels like a revolving tableau of celebrity glossies without any actual celebrities. Some sort of bizarrely postpubescent world view motivates it all, so the emotions all feel wobbly and terribly phony to adults. These bloodsuckers, who can swim underwater, experience all sorts of internal anguish, and they talk in pained, halting tones. All the actors appear to have used the same acting coach, and whoever it was probably works a day job in the food truck hospitality industry. Aside from their acting, the kids in the movie don’t embarrass themselves because they so obviously belong there; they’re of a piece with the surrounding movie and the somnambulant banality of the conception. But that unity of form and function is still pretty feeble; some of these actors give you the impression they were hired at random in the school cafeteria. Moreover, the adults — the parents — all seem lost; in scene after scene, their faces wilt, possibly with shame over being stuck in a movie that is so patently not their own. (Maybe the adults were hired at random in a post office?)

I can understand why this movie was such a huge hit. It feeds a primal longing not for shocks or gross-outs (the staples of most teen horror films) but for liberation from high school routines or smothering parents or middle-class values, and I think young audiences projected themselves onto the hip, confused characters. It’s vampire psychodrama. But it all seems the product of an unformed mind and personality; it could have used some comic subtext instead of all this lugubriousness — the two leads must have the heaviest eyelids since Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell in Macao (1952). The idea that some vampires don’t want to kill people and so resort to chasing after forest critters does have comic potential (remember how Dwight Frye’s eyes lit up when he ate juicy flies?), and the soundtrack works best when it ditches the gloppy score and incorporates some funky pop songs, but practically none of that potential is tapped. This movie bungles its chance to put the groove back in the undead — it could have been the best thing since Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

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