As we reach the penultimate installment of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how spectacularly around the bend this popular supernatural psychomelodrama has gone. In Breaking Dawn—Part 1, assorted characters fall in love with a newborn, jaunt off to private islands they happen to own off the coast of Brazil, get volume boosts to their hair thanks to becoming undead, lose their virginity in a life-threatening fashion, and experience a possibly demonic accelerated pregnancy, not necessarily in that order. In directing these final films, Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) has created something that’s half shameless wedding fantasia and half David Cronenberg-worthy body horror. It may be impossible for anyone but existing fans to take this seriously, but for the unconverted, it’s still a legitimately engaging, gape-worthy nutso spectacle.
Starting right where the last film left off, with minimal exposition, Breaking Dawn—Part 1 finds Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) finally giving in to one of the marriage proposals the male characters have been pitching at her since the series outset. The nuptials are a froth of rose petals and awkward toasts, and even Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the lupine corner of the Twilight love triangle, manages to set aside his shirtless heartbreak and make an appearance for a dance out in the woods. Then our heroine and Team Edward (Robert Pattinson) head off to honeymoon in South America, where they break a bed while consummating their relationship and conceiving an impossible baby, news of which enrages the werewolves.
In spite of wall-to-wall music that seems like an apology for the dialogue (morning after: “Last night was the best night of my existence”), Condon actually finds some warm, human moments. Pattinson laughs! Stewart has a nervous bathroom freakout on her wedding night, and gives her legs a last-minute shave! And then the film segues into a section presumably intended to scare teens away from pregnancy, as the vamp fetus grows and drains Stewart to a digitally enhanced emaciated state as it crushes her “from the inside out.” Where Twilight started as a “true love waits” metaphor, it makes in this segment a grotesquely unconvincing argument for maternal martyrdom, in the form of taking a baby to term even if it kills the mother. But that’s overthinking things. Breaking Dawn is best regarded as the purest-grade example of what the series has always at its heart been: a cracked-out paranormal soap opera. Bring on vampire Bella!