The infobahn is atwitter with “Twilight.” While the North American box office nears $200 million and the world-wide figures double that return, and stories abound of behind-the-scenes intrigue with machinations so rabid that the director has been excised from the sequel and a third film has already been marked on calendars for 2010, the clamor can’t conceal that this vampire movie is a trifle, an unremarkable film so slight that random episodes of “Buffy” bustle with more humor, charm, wonderment, and, most importantly, verve. Catherine Hardwicke has directed a film without magic or vitality, fatal exclusions for a fantasy flick.
The story of Bella, an Arizona teenager who shuttles herself off to small-town Washington state to live with her police chief father and subsequently becomes enraptured by a relationship with a dashing vampire, is told stiltingly, with too many scenes of high schoolers staring longingly at each other across the school cafeteria. (It suggests, as much as anything, that they are unimpressed by the tater tots and wiener wraps.) The voiceover from Bella adds very little to character understanding and fails to enhance the narrative. From a vampire flick perspective there‘s precious little pep so by the time anyone is Columbia Gorged, the attenuated “Twilight” offers nothing fresh in its execution with uninspiring special effects and meager action sequences, especially in a baseball game sequence which is equally hokey and undeveloped. The final battle in a hall of mirrors feels both forced and small — a fair reflection of the preceding story.
Exacerbating a tepidly told tale is the casting of Bella, a character of no particular individual spark in the first place, with Kristen Stewart, an actress so wooden it was difficult to distinguish the old growth forest from her tease. She delivers almost every line in an uninspired hushed rush, a breakneck breathless monotone that doesn’t evoke teenaged awkwardness as much as suggests laconic boredom.
As Edward, the perpetually 17-year-old vampire, Robert Pattinson exhibits some nice acting chops as Bella‘s paramour. He conveys Edward’s brooding intensity, conflicted impulses, and self-conscious sweetness with style. To compound Bella’s somnolence, the ancillary roles of her new, eager schoolmates (whom she appears to be find tedious) are played by an energetic and funny lot.
“Twilight” is a franchise in search of fangs and is devoured by “Let the Right One In,“ the Swedish masterwork, which despite currently earning less than $2 million on this continent and just over $5 million across the globe, is an enriching experience which deserves massive message board devotion and an audience more substantial than one delivered by midnight movie cult status. Director Tomas Alfredson redefines the vampire flick with a film that, while respecting the elements of the genre with beautifully choreographed genuine scares and unsightly frights replete with swirls of cats and bleeding eyes, is infused with intelligence, grace and humanity.
Based on the 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who adapted his work for the screen, it tells the tale of 12-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a latch key kid bullied at school, who befriends a new arrival to his apartment block, a fellow 12-year-old, Eli (Lina Leandersson), who is actually a centuries old vampire. Oskar is adrift — not saddled with loneliness as much as that inexorable pre-teen sense of awkwardness and uncertainty that even the most self-assured youth is pursued by — and finds a quietly receptive partner to his unassuming desire to bond in Eli. She is alone, immersed in a secret life, and Oskar is a trustworthy ally with an affection that is more than a crush but not yet carnal. Alfredson does a remarkable job of building this burgeoning friendship, illustrating the tender uneasy steps of the pre-teens, and nurturing pitch-perfect performances from the pair as well.
But what makes “Let the Right One In“ so exceptional is the way Alfredson and his crew handles the ever-changing moods so deftly with the quieter, more evocative moments and the grisly sequences delivered with equal aplomb. The switching back between the differing tones is expertly mastered by co-editors Alfredson and Daniel Jonsater (and filmed compellingly by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema) so that the gentle moments never feel ingratiating and the eerie scenes are thoroughly dense and chilling. Nothing feels stop gap; every is integral. Similarly, the soundtrack by Johan Soderqvist is wonderfully adept at enhancing the variation, producing sweeping orchestration for the thrilling scenes but also very melodic, spare musical interludes during the softer, more introspective instances.
By the time “Let the Right One In” culminates in a brilliantly realized swimming pool sequence which submerges the film in an act of devotional vigilantism, it is clear that this is a superlative work, one of the finest films of the last year, whose quality is not hinged to any niche and which has no need for a sequel to embolden its legacy.