Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is the new kid in town. (To anyone out there mentally cuing up the Eagles: Please stop.) When her mom (Sarah Clarke) decided to uproot from Phoenix and hit the road with her dorky, minor-league ballplayer new husband, Bella did the only sensible thing and opted to move to the tiny hamlet of Forks, Washington, to live with her dad (Billy Burke), the local police chief. It’s an okay town--pleasant diner, friendly neighbors--but the weather’s a drag (so wet the sod of dad’s lawn creeps right out into the street), and mysterious, fatal “animal attacks” are an occasional inconvenience.
Bella’s more immediate horror, though, is Forks High School, where the overeager editor of the school paper (Justin Chon) wants to do a front-page feature on her, and her awkward efforts at volleyball nearly cripple a genial jock (Michael Welch). Both boys gradually become interested in the beautiful Bella, as do the girls (Anna Kendrick, Christian Serratos) interested in them. They needn’t worry though, as Bella only has eyes for smoldering loner Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).
Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation of the first of Stephanie Meyer’s derangingly successful tween novels, takes this most-familiar of adolescent sagas and adds an only-slightly-less-familiar twist. Perfect boy that he is, Edward nonetheless has some odd habits. He’s never around on those (infrequent) days when it’s sunny. He has an inhuman aptitude for brooding. He never eats. He wears odd, colored contact lenses and enough hair product to buttress a cathedral. His skin is a pale, post-mortem blue, and he is deathly cold to the touch. Taken together, these clues are clear: Edward is either a vampire or the member of an ’80s Europop band--and what would the latter be doing in tiny Forks?
Although there is nothing in her back story to suggest that she was raised Mennonite or home-schooled by anthropologist parents in the jungles of Borneo, Bella evidently has been so insulated from all forms of pop culture that she does not recognize this Most Conspicuous Vampire Ever (nor his equally conspicuous adoptive vampire parents and siblings) until, following the hints of a Native American friend (Taylor Lautner), she consults a book of indigenous legends. (The friend’s tribe are “wolf people”--hint, hint--who’ve never gotten along with Edward’s kind. But that’s fodder for the sequel.)
When Edward confesses that, yes, he is a vampire and that’s why he’s alternated between eying her like petit filet and pushing her away, Bella is not the least bit put off. She may have declared earlier that she doesn’t like “cold, wet things”--pretty much the definition of a vampire in the Pacific Northwest--but for Edward she’ll make an exception. She’s not even bothered by his idiosyncratic endearments: “I’ve never wanted a human’s blood so much in my life”; “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin.”
And, truth be told, there are advantages to having an undead boyfriend. When in a passionate moment, Edward confesses, “I still don’t know if I can control myself,” he is speaking for every 17-year-old boy ever born; the difference is that Edward, who has been 17 years old for the better part of a century, really wants to control himself, having given up human blood along with the rest of his “family.” Not all vampires are so discerning, of course, and it’s not long before Bella is targeted by a paleface whose tastes run to more than light foreplay.
Twilight is a film that really demands to be judged on its own terms. Which is to say, if you are a girl between the ages of, say, 12 and 16, you will see the movie, will complain about the small ways in which it differs from the book, will see it again anyway and perhaps a third time, and may well wind up with a Robert Pattinson poster on your bedroom wall.
For the rest of you, I can report that Twilight is an underwhelming experience--this is no “Buffy,” alas--but not a terrible one as these things go. The plot tends toward the obvious and such surprises as there are tend to be of the head-scratching variety. (It’s nice to know, however, that when fleeing a deadly foe, Hollywood vampires are just as idiotically inclined as their human counterparts to split up into small, vulnerable groups.)
Stewart is likable as Bella, who is not always a likable character, and while Pattinson’s role is inevitably more ridiculous, he does as reliable a job with it as might be hoped. The rest of the cast is fine as well, with Burke standing out as Bella’s taciturn, drily humorous dad. The direction by Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown) is capable, though the film’s special effects--mostly very fast running, jumping, and tree-climbing--might’ve done with a little more work.
Ultimately, Twilight is silly and melodramatic and hard to dislike in much the same way as its target audience, with a distinctly teenage sense of tragedy. Before you know it, Bella is begging Edward to make her a vampire too, so they can be together forever. Evidently she has already forgotten the multitude of graduation caps lining Edward’s wall, the fruits of the eternal 17-year-old’s need to matriculate and re-matriculate every few years. Repeating high school on and on into infinity--now that is truly the fate of the damned.
Christopher Orr is a senior editor at The New Republic.