In 2008, when Twilight first hit theaters, I (Hazel Cills) was a teenager and thus unfortunately the movie’s target audience. In fact, I was there opening night, in a theater of squealing teenage girls who shouted either “Team Edward!” (for those who crush on vampires) or “Team Jacob!” (for those who crush on werewolves) and threw popcorn at the screen when each respective character came on screen.
I didn’t like Twilight then (I honestly would have rather watched Ginger Snaps, where werewolves actually get to fuck), but it was a completely inescapable phenomenon for someone my age. If you don’t know anything about Twilight, it’s the first movie in a five-part franchise (or, “saga” as they call it) based on books of the same name, written by Stephenie Meyer. The script was also written by Melissa Rosenberg and directed, somehow, by Thirteen’s Catherine Hardwicke. The movie follows a bumbling teenage girl Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who has to move in with her dad in the dreary Forks, Washington. She quickly catches the attention of a handsome and mysteriously pale Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who lives with several other mysteriously pale “foster siblings” and their mysteriously pale wealthy parents.
After Edward saves Bella both from a car accident (by pushing against an oncoming truck with super-human strength) and from a group of harassing men in a dark alley one night (by swooping in on the scene in a car out of nowhere and giving crazy eyes), our heroine wants to know what he really is. Well, girl, he’s a vampire! The Cullen family is revealed to be a pack of vampires who only hunt animals for blood, and Edward is actually over 100 years old. Chill. The two start to date, for some insane reason, but then these evil vampires who prefer human blood roll up to Forks and want Bella specifically, and there’s this whole big fight, and god that’s a lot for high school, don’t you think?
Twilight was not exactly a great work of art. For one thing, it’s pretty conservative, and there were all these articles about whether Meyer’s Mormonism might have influenced it when it came out. In future books, sex is treated as a source of great pain, and Bella gets pregnant immediately after it (following marriage of course). So it’s hard for me to not think of Twilight as a parable for not having sex too quickly as a teenager and for valuing serious romantic bonds that remain eternal, literally. But now that the movie is coming back to theaters for its 10th anniversary (whoo, boy!) I figured it was a good time to revisit it, so I made my coworker Megan Reynolds rewatch it with me and have a little chat.
HAZEL: So, the first thing that struck me watching this movie again, is that Bella seems sort of... ballsy? A frequent complaint about Twilight is that Bella in the books is barely a real character. She’s just a white girl with brown hair who is, like, sooo awkward. And I think you can see Stewart trying to replicate that in the movie, because she’s always tripping over things or distractingly dropping her backpack in weird places and I thought, oh, this is how they make the extremely beautiful and cool Kirsten Stewart into a relatable teenage girl, by making her... slip a lot?
I remembered her as being a lot more meek and nerdy of a character, but she’s quite popular! And she’s straight up like, “WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU?” to Edward all the time. I could barely ask a boy out in high school, let alone ask them if they were vampires.
The second thing that strikes me about this movie is that nearly everyone looks and acts constipated the entire time. What’s up with that? I understand in that first scene when Edward and Bella meet, he’s supposed to be like, enraptured with her scent and wants to murder her, but then Stewart is like equally flabbergasted and uncontrollably stuttering, lip-chewing, fidgeting. I just envision both of them on set, and the director yelling “OKAY, BUT MORE NERVOUS AND PAINED,” and then after 100 takes of notching that up, we get the final scene in the movie.
MEGAN: My initial and perhaps ONLY major complaint—just kidding, I have like one million—about this film is that it should’ve and could’ve been way, way, WAY hornier. Seventy-five percent hornier. Ratchet up the horny. Break the knob on the horny dial, please! Barring that, here are my other initial thoughts: Why is this movie two hours? Why does Kristen Stewart, who was miscast, as you pointed out to me in a separate conversation, spend the entire time sighing? Is sighing acting?
I read all four books in this cursed series because I love trash and also, sometimes, vampires, but what struck me first and foremost is how quickly they just hopped right into the action. Bella showed up at her new school, everyone was immediately obsessed with her for no discernible reason, and then all of a sudden, there was Robert Pattinson, dressed like a hipster from Allston, Massachusetts circa 2003, who was ALSO obsessed with her. I can’t remember if the books were more detailed, but the movie progressed at the sort of befuddling pace that befalls all movies of this ilk, compressing backstory or otherwise completely erasing it for the sake of... what? I don’t know!
I did like how the whole movie was cool in tone—mimicking the gloom of the Pacific Northwest. Yes, I get it, vampires sparkle in the light—but that made me sleepy.
HAZEL: Yeah, I’ll agree that I appreciated the Instagram filter put on the entire movie, if only because it masked how much makeup Robert Pattinson was wearing (there was one scene where I was sure he was wearing coral lipstick.)
The problem with Twilight is that I feel like I’m supposed to be invested in their love story, and yet I’m not even sure what they even like about each other. I’m here for a love-driven-by-fate, a star-crossed love, whatever. But even Romeo and Juliet had a smidge more chemistry, at least sexually, than these two. I know I’m supposed to take this movie as just the foundation of their romance considering the length of the series, but don’t you just want to see them hang out in a setting that isn’t a flower-dotted grotto? Maybe this is me showing my card as someone who doesn’t read romance novels.
Also, other than the scene in the woods when Bella is rattling off everything she learned from the WikiHow page of “How To Ask Your Crush If He’s a Vampire” (“Your skin is pale white and ice cold,” lol), she seems not... that... impressed that he’s basically the living dead. When Edward says that animal blood isn’t as satisfying, and says he’d rather have hers, all Bella can do is politely smile. There’s the presence that he’s threatening (like when he tries to kiss her and has to back off immediately because he feels like he’s going to “lose control” over her) but otherwise don’t you want her to be a little more scared? Or maybe I want him to be a lot darker (read: sexier). But then again, I’m not a 14-year-old girl.
MEGAN: It was nuts to me that she wasn’t more freaked out by the fact that the man she loved sparkles in the sunlight, drinks blood for food, and never sleeps. I’m not a 14-year-old girl either, but I imagine that at 14, I would’ve been slightly more worried if I was meeting my undead boyfriend’s family for the first time knowing full well that I smelled good in a food way. But maybe that’s part of the genius of this movie that we’re both simply seeing as a glaring plot hole. I imagine what we’re supposed to think is that the love between them is so powerful that they are perfectly fine ignoring the neon red flags hoisted high and triumphant in the air. If that was the case, I’d buy it. But their lack of sexual chemistry and the overall tepid horniness of the entire proceedings made it difficult to invest in that storyline.
I feel like talking about this movie any further will make me feel bad, but I would like to acknowledge the special effects. The swooshing. The zipping. The WHOOSH. Robert Pattinson carrying Kristen Stewart like a bemused father giving a perfunctory pony ride. I could not deal with it any time K-Stew hopped on his back and he zipped off like he had an urgent errand to run across town. Was there a better way they could have done that? Do you think it would’ve looked not nearly as cheesy if it were 2008 and I was 14?
HAZEL: No, it was unbearably cheesy. I just remembered the styling, too, and how I screamed internally when I saw Bella’s low-rise jeans. How many skinny scarves does the Cullen family own? Where did they shop? Did a pack of vampires just roll up to Gap when they landed in Forks?
You know I don’t think Twilight was an easy task, the whole “let’s make a teen movie about how your death drive can make you horny.” There’s a reason Fifty Shades of Grey started as Twilight fan-fiction, it’s kinky because there are so many gaps. Now that I’m really thinking about it, maybe in some weird meta, art-house way, the ways in which Twilight REFUSES to give us actual sex is a way to inflict pain on the viewer...
...It’s a movie about unbearable sexual tension intended to incite as much unbearable sexual tension as possible from the viewer. Everything about their acting is unnatural on-screen—the weird breaks and pauses, the stuttering—but that only underscores how unnatural their relationship really is. You want them to be normal just as Edward and Bella want to be normal, but it’s impossible. And so you’re left watching the movie with a constant hole in it, one for where a healthy, thriving romantic relationship should be. Damn, that’s dark.
Or, uh, maybe it’s just a bad movie!