Blood Lust

(Left to right) JACKSON RATHBONE stars as Jasper Hale, ASHLEY GREENE stars as Alice Cullen, KELLAN LUTZ stars as Emmett Cullen, ROBERT PATTINSON stars as Edward Cullen and NIKKI REED stars as Rosalie Hale in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON. Photo Credit: Kimberley French

(Left to right) JACKSON RATHBONE stars as Jasper Hale, ASHLEY GREENE stars as Alice Cullen, KELLAN LUTZ stars as Emmett Cullen, ROBERT PATTINSON stars as Edward Cullen and NIKKI REED stars as Rosalie Hale in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON. Photo Credit: Kimberley French

Did Bram Stoker ever suspect that Dracula would become a cultural touchstone in the evolution of gothic romance? Did he endeavor to revolutionize the horror genre in the same vein as Mary Shelley’s hauntingly humanizing Frankenstein? Did he see a man or a monster in Vlad Tepes when he borrowed from the blood-stained legacy of the Hungarian tyrant? In the years since Stoker’s seminal work, others have fallen in love with his vampire mythology, so malleable as to be receptive to constant reinterpretation.

Hollywood’s vision of the Transylvanian Prince became iconic; Bela Lugosi’s death-blanched skin framed by a raven widow’s peak, his cruelty cloaked by a dashing suit and cape. Maidens were boneless beneath his deep voice and strong embrace. The hunt was a seduction, his teeth both penetrating and life-draining. It was a petit mort many women privately fantasized about succumbing to.

Author Ann Rice made her vampires both beautiful and obscene; as susceptible to piety and corruption as any human being. She stripped them of sexuality, replacing it with a classic romanticism that transcended all gender boundaries. Louis hated himself for loving Lestat. Marius found his muse in the eternal youth known as Armand. These vampires were bound by agape, not eros, and therefore pop culture was able to accept Rice’s proclivity for same-sex pairings.

Most recently, Stephenie Meyer has sought to re-imagine the vampire legend and in the process exposed an entirely new generation to the appeal of the perfect undead. At the center of her universe is an unremarkable teenaged heroine named Bella Swan and her century-old beau, the mysterious Edward Cullen. Many have interpreted the saga is an allegory for abstinence – Edward struggles to control his overwhelming bloodlust while in his beloved’s presence; in turn, Bella denies her own hunger for Edward’s form, which is otherworldly in its beauty. Meyer has taken the Lugosi Dracula’s sexual appeal and the Rice vampires’ pristene asexuality and brilliantly merged them for easy teen consumption.

At the center of this current phenomenon remains the complexity of the vampire myth, and how it has become inextricably linked to both romance and sex. By stripping her vampires of sexual lust, did Ann Rice tap into the appeal of the “safe” homosexual male, devoid of any predatory threat towards females? Is this why the porcelain-faced, willow-limbed – and essentially neutered – Edward Cullen possesses such an ardent female fanbase?

In truth, women are not innocent of objectifying males. Men openly approve of feminine sexuality, particularly the appeal of lesbian eroticism.  Within the anonymity of the internet, where society is less prone to judgment, multitudes of women express their appreciation of masculine sexuality in the form of homoerotic fiction often known as “slash.” There, they can remove themselves from the equation and operate as voyeurs in a world where a romantic pair is comprised of physical and emotional equals. Lust is safe from afar; this is a rule that females have been taught from a young age. However, that coda has been seized and re-invented by women authors exploring the vampire myth, who in turn gave their peers permission to view men as meriting desire outside of a female reference point. Little did Bram Stoker know that his horror novel would eventually play a seminal role in the evolution of feminine sexual emancipation. Dracula is no longer the predator he once was.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

KRISTEN STEWART stars as Bella Swan and TAYLOR LAUTNER stars as Jacob Black in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON.  Photo Credit: Kimberley French

KRISTEN STEWART stars as Bella Swan and TAYLOR LAUTNER stars as Jacob Black in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON. Photo Credit: Kimberley French

So rarely in cinema has romance revolved around two more detestable characters than the pernicious Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Sullen—er, Cullen (Robert Pattinson). The film adaptation of the second chapter in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series catapults us headlong into two hours and ten minutes of abjectly ponderous territory with the first of Bella’s many nauseating voice-overs, “These violent delights have violent ends.”

The cribbed material, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, lay squarely next to Bella’s head as she wakes up from the first dream sequence, as if she’d attempted absorption by osmosis because eloquence isn’t her forte. The climactic sequence is telegraphed to anyone with a sixth grade reading level who so much as tangentially heard of the Bard’s famous tragedy even if only by way of pop culture references. So preposterous is the comparison, especially given that the closest anyone comes to dissecting Shakespeare is when her teacher asks a question about iambic pentameter. If you paid absolutely zero attention in class, that’s the one thing you’d remember about Sir William.

Then, just as Bella is throwing herself a pity party for her birthday, Edward enters the picture—cue teenage girls swooning. The entrance is so hammy—shot in slow motion, Edward looking not so much cool as constipated and squinty-eyed—that the slug line might have read, “The dashing Edward flamingly sauntered across the schoolyard parking lot.” Rock Hudson is rolling over in his grave.

The romance scenes, so devoid of charisma I became not apoplectic but epileptic with rage, are filled with stilted, pedestrian dialogue, “The only thing that can hurt me is you.” The entire film seems to consist of three thoughts, cycled ad nauseum: Don’t leave me. I can’t live without you. Make me a vampire. Juggle these three sentences for two hours and replace a word occasionally with another monosyllabic word, maybe two syllables if you’re adventurous, and you’ve just seen the entire movie without shelling out a single dollar.

When things come to blows between the Black clan, who aren’t so much werewolves as they are computer generated furries (if you have to look “furries” up, spare yourself and don’t), and the Cullens, even the third figure in the love triangle, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner’s shirtless musculature), tries to push Bella away only to end up concealing her from Edward who cannot hear her thoughts. It would perhaps be helpful if she had any thoughts to hear.

Ultimately, this leads Edward to his Shakespearean conclusion—almost. His ultimate commitment to emo self-loathing is thwarted, mostly because he spent too much time running in slow motion so the rest of the family could catch up and dissuade him. Bella meets Jane (Dakota Fanning exhibiting greater intensity in one glowering look than Kristen Stewart throughout the entire film), the most powerful of a group of vampires known as the Volturi. It doesn’t immediately occur to Bella to offer her immunity as a potential asset to their clan. Instead, the entire scene descends into a good, old-fashioned brawl not unlike an action film-within-the-film, titled Facepunch, which Bella and friends had seen several scenes prior.

Yes, the most appallingly self-aware film in recent memory, another scene has Bella and a friend exiting a zombie flick. Not only might you collapse in paroxysms of laughter when her friend calls the zombie movie “self-referential,” but your irony meter should shatter as she bemoans the movie’s consumerist message next to the film’s poster in front of which sits a strategically-positioned Burger King bag. Director Chris Weitz should be forced to fall on his sword in a written apology to George A. Romero for his feeble attempt at falsely inflating New Moon by the only means possible, cutting down competing genres.

The cinematography borders on the ridiculous. Wide shots of Jacob and his pack mates fifty yards from the lens lack depth of field or depth perspective to heighten the tension of their arrival. Badly-timed jump cuts to uncorrelated angles of an actor’s face only disorient the viewer without any apparent need for emotional affect. A hand-held shot in the cafeteria is pointlessly unstable. Did the DP get confused and think he was shooting 2012? A two-shot of Bella and a friend walking side by side isn’t even focused properly. Finally, in a complete failure of imagination, a passage-of-time shot dollies around Bella over and over for minutes while we count two entire months pass by. We get it, she’s paralyzed with sadness. So am I.

What on Earth do these two self-absorbed parodies of teenagers see in one another? Edward has been around for almost 110 years and, he argues, no one is more special to him than the self-centered tease of a girlfriend he, in relative terms, has only just met? Who are they kidding? If I knew a friend in merely his thirties who felt that way about such a despicable woman, I’d tell him to have his head examined. Edward should have taken a cue from Connor MacLeod in The Highlander and used his time to amass dynastic wealth so he could get out more, travel a little, date interesting women throughout the ages.

Bella is cruelly manipulative, repeatedly playing one family against another as Jacob and clan become surrogates after the Cullens skip town because Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli) isn’t aging and townspeople begin to wonder. Edward spends ninety-nine percent of the film looking and feeling morose, often going entire conversations without once making eye contact with Bella. So drowned in one-dimensional emo self-pity is the film that it made me want to slash my wrists.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 • Running Time: 130 minutes • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and action. • Distributed by Summit Entertainment

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