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Stephenie Meyer’s swooning 2005 young adult novel, told from the perspective of a Bella Swan who sees herself as a geeky duckling, reaches past the postmodern irony of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to embrace Victorian-era romance. It’s all about forbidden love and keeping those overwhelming urges buttoned up tight. Director Catherine Hardwicke transforms Meyer’s Twilight into an engaging mash-up: a coming of age adventure fable that’s at once ancient and modern.

Since her breakthrough film Thirteen, Hardwicke has dealt with tumultuous teens (Lords of Dogtown) and otherworldly narratives (The Nativity Story), and is ideally suited for Twilight. She’s equally adept at portraying the flush of first love Bella (Kristen Stewart) feels for the magnetic, aloof Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and the startling moment this smart, solitary heroine realizes her beloved bad boy is a vampire.

Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter) opens up Twilight from the insularity of the besotted Bella’s first person narration (with its perpetual Edward worship), and makes the rainy small town of Forks, Washington into a viable community instead of just a misty backdrop. (The film was shot in neighboring Oregon.) Hardwick incorporates action and suspense while keeping the story grounded in two key settings: the high school and dense surrounding woods.

The supernatural elements aside, Twilight is a Pretty in Pink romance about an outsider girl and unattainable boy set in the evergreen Pacific Northwest, and Catherine Hardwick never forgets the squealing teens who’ve made Stephenie Meyer’s books so successful. The school sequences crackle with the knowledge that everyone is watching every move Bella and Edward make, the intensity heightened by an undercurrent of distrust for Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli) and his adopted brood.

But it’s in the primordial privacy of the old growth forest that this odd couple find common ground: the clumsy girl surprised by her own bravery, and the lovestruck bloodsucker who wants to eat her up, but abstains. Vampire movies are about sexual hunger above all, and it’s the combustible chemistry between Kristen Stewart’s chilled Bella and Robert Pattinson’s cold-blooded Edward that gives their chaste coupling its heat. Even when the story gets flighty, they keep Twilight grounded.

Cinematographer Eliott Davis (Out of Sight) beautifully captures the region’s cloud-filtered light, and the effect is both ethereal and hyper-real. It’s the perfect environment for a vampire who doesn’t sleep, and a girl who can’t believe she isn’t dreaming when she’s awake.

Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on November 21, 2008 by Summit Entertainment
First published in the Metro Times.

Twilight is available on Netflix