An adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's insanely popular novel about a tormented teenage vampire and the plucky heroine who loves him, Twilight has a lot of unattractive baggage for audience members who haven't already given over their hearts and loins to Meyer's young-adult series. While the movie attempts to find an compelling middle ground between gothic supernaturalism and teenage romance, it usually winds up stumbling into the inane territory implied by both descriptions.
Things start out promising, when 17-year-old wallflower Kristen Stewart moves from sunny Phoenix to a rural Washington community where everyone knows everyone's business and it rains nearly every day. Her unexpected, unwelcome fame at her tiny school and uncomfortable relationship with her father form a vortex of teenage awkwardness, something director Catherine Hardwicke manages to frame naturally and with relative subtlety. As in her directorial debut thirteen, Hardwicke proves adept at portraying the way teens talk and act in their mundane, day-to-day lives, and the handheld camera work and gloomy gray setting nicely offset Stewart's subdued take on teen girldom.
Unfortunately—also as in thirteen—that naturalism gives way to melodrama, in this case when devastatingly gorgeous, uncomfortably intense teenage vampire Robert Pattinson enters Stewart's life. The pair's early fumblings, before she discovers his undead-ness, are generally sweet—though heavy on close-ups of Pattinson gazing at Stewart in a mildly creepy manner—but once the word "vampire" is finally uttered, the movie screams off into vaguely embarrassing romantic cliché. Cameras pan and spin overhead as music swells, chests heave, and voices crack with emotion, with extended scenes where Stewart and Pattinson do nothing but stare intently at each other.
From there, the only time the movie deviates from gooey romanticism is during a couple of action sequences that ramp up the movie's latent vampire tendencies. Most of the references to Pattinson's supernatural abilities come in frustratingly tiny doses, like a small display of speed or strength for Stewart's benefit. But two scenes that find Pattinson teaming up with the rest of his undead "family"—one to play a super-charged game of baseball, the other to rescue Stewart from a rogue vampire who doesn't subscribe to the clan's no-human-blood diet—ratchet up the vampire exploits considerably. While it's a nice break from all the overwrought sentimentality, these setpieces are hindered by cheesy CGI effects and unfortunate styling that makes the vampires look not like impossibly beautiful killing machines, but like a bunch of dorks who fell into a vat of pancake makeup. As a result, Twilight never manages to strike the balance between the low-key romance it could be and the action-packed epic it wants to be.