Twilight should be considered a cult classic. In fact, it would be if not for two main reasons: They made sequels, and they were horrible; the film is considered a product for the consumption of teenage girls, and the casual misogyny towards women and their interest has allowed us to misfile this film.
Okay, heavy opening. Let’s unpack this, starting with why Twilight should get more attention. I know that’s an odd thing to say considering the franchise was a full blown pop culture phenomenon. But that’s the issue—the franchise. The franchise as a whole is viewed culturally through a lens that is separate from the first film—or, at least, should be.
Twilight premiered in 2008. In case you’ve been living under a rock for 13 years, in centers around teenager Bella who moves to a tiny rain-washed Washington state town and falls in love with a vampire named Edward. Their relationship is forbidden, of course, but that doesn’t stop them from being together. The success of the first film (and books) would springboard the endeavor and they would go on to make four more movies, splitting the last into two parts. The films gradually got more polished and, because of that, lost the authenticity of the first project.
Kathrine Hardwicke directed a raw and compelling vampire movie. The shots were shaky, using hand held cameras in many of the scenes, making it feel a little uneasy. You never knew exactly where Edward stood or what he was thinking, and the use of the cameras never allowed us to settle in and get comfortable.
The unorthodox chemistry between Bella and Edward was evident as well. This is not to say, though, that the acting was necessarily fantastic by any stretch. But it doesn’t have to be. This movie (should be) a cult classic, not an Oscar-winner. It’s weird. The performance by Kristen Stewart is clunky and erratic, but it works. Robert Pattinson fascinated in his role. As the franchise grew, he clearly became disinterested. But at the time, even with the immense popularity of the book series by Stephanie Meyer, the movie was relatively unknown. And everything about the performance of Robert Pattinson suggests that he was free in his delivery to take the character to weird places.
On paper it’s absurd. The Cullens are a “family” of vampires that can’t be in the sunlight or have their secret exposed, yet they drive fancy cars and attend High School with hundred of other teenagers. They act super suspicious, talk to nobody, and date each other, despite the fact they all live together. In the movie’s most absurd scene, The Cullens drive out deep into the woods in the middle a thunderstorm to play a game of baseball, so the sound of the thunder could mask the sound of the ball hitting the bat. But it’s scenes like that which allows the film, in a weird way, to not take itself so seriously.
It strikes an odd balance. On the one hand it’s about a vampire falling in love with a mortal teenager, and his overbearing intensity not to kill her. Kristen Stewart’s doey openness as Bella—ready to accept anything and everything about Edward’s life—gives Robert Pattinsons’s performance the breathing room it needs for him to go white-knuckle and intense. But on the other hand, it features a bunch of showy vampires playing baseball and driving sports cars and acting about as suspicious as you could possibly be in a town of 500 people. And they sparkle in the sunlight (which, okay, is just dumb, I admit).
But it works. Somehow, it balances itself out into an intriguing mystery, unfolding for the viewer as Bella slowly starts to piece the puzzle that Edward and his family are vampires. The intensity is due to the fact that the Cullens are “vegetarians.” They don’t drink the blood of humans, only animals. And, despite the many flaws of the series, this bit of world building was brilliant by Stephanie Meyer. It gave an original and complex layer to the vampire mythology. Well done.
This isn’t to say that Edward doesn’t want to kill Bella. He definitely does. And Bella doesn’t make it easy for him. Their obsession with each other is intriguing as Hardwicke directs their performances in a guttural manner. No matter how absurd or weird or even dumb the substance of this story gets, underneath is a raw experience. And that’s to be applauded.
As for the score, Carter Burwell composes something truly haunting. “Bella’s Lullaby” is an emotional gut punch. Seriously, go back and give it a listen again. Drop all pretenses. Just close your eyes and listen. Any disagreements now? Another reason why this movie feels so authentic is the cinematography by Elliot Davis. The film’s blue filter is instantly recognizable. Such is the case with the acting, directing, and score, the cinematography is an example of something raw; untamed and unpolished.
Perhaps the most damming evidence to support my thesis is the fact that in 2021, Twilight is more relevant than ever before. You cannot scroll through more than 10 videos on a social media platform such as Tik Tok without coming across a Twilight-themed video. Whether as a parody or simply using Carter Burwell’s pianos on “Bella’s Lullaby,” this film clearly struck a nerve with millennials, and despite its obvious flaws, we cannot let Twilight go.
So, why isn’t this a cult classic? We’ll start with the first problem: the sequels suck.
Well, honestly, I actually love New Moon. While the movie is led by a droopy Kristen Stewart (who turned her quirky and awkward performance in Twilight to feature-length listlessness and—there’s really no nuanced way to put it—just plain bad acting by Taylor Lautner, and the fact that the story’s most compelling character in Edward is only in it for like 15 minutes, the cinematography is somehow better.
Javier Aguirresaro also colored The Road, and his dark and heavy pallets really make the film stand out. As for the score, Alexandre Desplat—who later scored the final two Harry Potter films—really took the otherwise bland performances by Stewart and Lauther and produced something epic and sweeping. Director Chris Weitz gave us something memorable, even if the Rotten Tomates crowd didn’t care.
But then Eclipse happened. All nuance went out the window. Robert Pattinson was checked out by this point. Kristen Stewart wore a terrible wig. Taylor Lautner was given next to no subtext in his character, and even the set design for the final fight scene was mediocre. And then we got Breaking Dawn. This first film was practically an excuse for Bella and Edward to make out for like 45 minutes of the film’s runtime. Part two was a clusterfuck of truly horrendous dialogue and the worst CGI in any major motion picture. The most egregious aspect to Breaking Dawn, apart from the embarrassing plot, is just how polished Director BIll Condon makes it look and feel. It feels like a big, hollywood film. It’s smooth and sharp and goes against everything Cathrine Hardwicke’s Twilight achieved.
Carter Burwell returned to score the final two movies, though, which was the only highlight. “Twilight Overture” was a masterclass, in which he took the themes from each movie and produced it into one song, despite the fact that he didn’t score the second or third movie.
The plots of each story were absurd, but that’s not the point. Every aspect of Twilight’s production felt real and tangible, raw. By the end of the franchise, it was all just too pretty and bright, lacking any grit that a dangerous vampire story should entail.
Second and most important reason Twilight is robbed of its cult classic statutes it’s earned since its debut 13 years ago: it’s seen as product for teen girls, and we don’t take their interests seriously. If a vampire movie was made for boys—like say, The Lost Boys—it would absolutely take its rightful place in cult cannon. But since it’s written with a primary audience of young women, our society brushes it to the side with a scoff. Our misogynistic prejudices amplifies our criticism.
There’s a smugness in the way in which we critique “women’s entertainment,” an “otherness” that segregates the content from movies or televisions or books with an audience primarily directed toward men. This systematic misogyny is baked into the way we view content. And in doing so, clouds over the objectiveness women’s content deserves.
Twilight isn’t great by any means. The acting is weird. The story, despite some intrigue, is fairly formulaic. And it’s not high art. But it’s not trying to be. Whatever happened after the release of the movie not withstanding, chapter one in this story would have been a cult classic if it were the only chapter in the book. And if we decided to take literature and content for young women seriously.
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