Seventeen-year-old Bella (Kristen Stewart) moves from sunny Phoenix, Arizona to dreary, rainy Forks, Washington when her free-spirited mother decides to go "on the road" with her new, minor league baseball-playing husband. She moves in with her disturbingly unobservant father, the sheriff in the 3,000-person town, and begins her junior year at the local high school in the middle of March.
Bella's a mopey, humorless teen who keeps to herself, but as high school popularity is based 95% on looks, she falls in with a cool crowd. She's drawn to Edward (Robert Pattinson), one of five impeccably coifed 17-year-old adoptive children of local doctor Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli). He, however, acts strange towards her, at times unnaturally intrigued and at other times rudely repulsed.
Once they finally hash things out, it becomes clear that he indeed finds her appealing but for some reason feels it's in her best interest if they don't interact. Their mutual attraction can't be contained, however, and Bella eventually puts two and two together to figure out that Edward and his clan are vampires. Edward explains that he can read minds, but he's intrigued by the fact that hers is blocked. They quickly become more than friends, as he indoctrinates her into the ways of the vampire (apparently, they enjoy giving piggyback rides).
The Cullens, we find out, are friendly, "vegetarian" vampires who feed on animals instead of humans (try explaining the upside of that to your pet schnauzer) and welcome her with open arms. Trouble comes to town, however, when a trio of "old school" vamps breezes through, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. Dr. Cullen officially labels them "animal attacks" but knows that they'll have to confront the interlopers. All possibility of civility goes out the door when one of the meat-eating vampires catches Bella's scent (apparently, she's got an irresistible odor) and targets her for death. Edward and his family must stand up to protect her while maintaining their secret.
The End Product
Twilight is solid entertainment if you go in expecting a romance colored by a supernatural thriller and not the other way around. Like the early episodes of True Blood, the standard vampire elements are downplayed in favor of the central human-vamp relationship. And like True Blood, it manages to remain watchable, since we are learning about the characters just as they are learning about each other. Still, with a running time of over two hours, Twilight tests the limit of how much vampire inaction the audience can take in one film.
Scriptwriter Melissa Rosenberg deserves a good deal of the credit for keeping the action-starved plot from becoming stagnant, delving into the adolescent "Wouldn't it be cool if" elements of dating a vampire with a sense of wonderment and an occasional touch of humor. The Bella-Edward relationship is realistically shallow and overbearing as only teenaged angst can validate.
I'm not sure why anyone would like gloomy gus Bella, but Stewart's mature performance keeps her from becoming a dismissible teen waif. Pattinson is similarly enjoyable, once you get past his character's impossibly pallid face and cumulonimbus-styled hair. Cam Gigandet makes for a strong foe as evil vamp James, but he and his posse have way too little to do in the movie.
That's because the film feels sterilized for the intended teen audience. I'm not saying that it shouldn't be this way, but a vampire movie with nary a drop of blood is an odd duck. And vampires that don't die in sunlight, but instead sparkle? Is this product placement for the glitter industry? Also, some of the plot elements feel glossed over to make the story flow more freely and avoid nuisance conflicts -- like why would the Cullens so readily reveal themselves to Bella? Moments like this make Twilight feel a bit dumbed down -- and unnecessarily so. (The quidditch-like vampire baseball game ventures into a whole other realm of dumb.)
Like True Blood, Twilight is an intriguing journey into not-quite-real world whose most interesting moments come not from the central love story, but rather from the overarching plot, the tales of the myriad of characters who make up the universe. The secret pact between the vampires and the local Native American tribe, for instance, feels fresh and will certainly be explored in the next film -- if the "to be continued" ending is any indication. The knowledge that there will be a second -- and a third and probably a fourth -- entry makes Twilight feel a bit like a miniseries opener: a solid but perfunctory introduction that does enough to keep us wanting more -- or at least willing to see more.