Taking its cue from the Harry Potter series, the fourth and final Twilight novel has been split in two for its big screen adaptation, ensuring this vampiric cash cow will have audiences returning to theatres for at least one more year. Breaking Dawn Part 1 is far from an ideal entrance point for newcomers to the series, but there is enough in this latest installment to sate the appetites of existing fans, as well as throwing a bone or two to horror aficionados in general.
Things start slowly and the first hour is a slog for the less dedicated, as we experience every last moment of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward’s (Robert Pattinson) wedding, followed by an impressively exotic honeymoon where their love is finally consummated. As if to underscore the importance of this moment even more, Bella immediately becomes pregnant and dangerously so. As the foetus grows at an alarming rate, Bella’s health deteriorates and author Stephanie Meyers continues to hammer home her warnings about chastity, contraception, unwanted pregnancies, abortion and the overwhelming responsibilities of parenthood. What must be applauded, however, is how ambitiously Meyers is committed to doing so within her chosen medium of horror melodrama.
Considering Twilight is essentially a teen romance about forbidden love and the importance of “waiting”, Breaking Dawn explores some pretty crazy ideas in the grand tradition of classic monster movies. Director Bill Condon brings together a great crew, including Guillermo Del Toro’s cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, the Coens’ regular composer, Carter Burwell (who also scored the first Twilight) to give the film a more gothic sensibility. Condon even throws in a nod to horrormeister James Whale, director of Frankenstein, and the subject of his 1998 film, Gods and Monsters.
While Bella is apparently dying (with help from some terrific makeup effects) and Edward does very little, spurned werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) wrestles with his loyalties, makes some staggeringly ballsy decisions and emerges as the standout character of the piece. It’s unfortunate that two of Jacob’s most pivotal moments come when he is in wolf mode, as Lautner is force to act with his voice only, and the series’ dodgy werewolf CGI continues to be a problem.
While the vast majority of Twilight‘s audience has read the books and knows exactly how the story pans out, Breaking Dawn Part 1 still builds to a cliff-hanger, and for those only watching the films it is a pretty impressive one that leaves the story open to all kinds of ludicrous finales. Breaking Dawn was always going to be the hardest chapter to pull off, and while the first half struggles, Condon stays committed to both the awkward romance and the story’s more outrageous and gruesome elements and as a result, the film ultimately works. Will it all end in tragedy for Bella and Edward, or will they “live” happily ever after? At the very least, Condon ensures we still care enough to come back next year and find out.