I should first of all admit that not only have I not read Stephenie Meyer's stupendously successful book, but I'm not a big reader of paranormal romance (which has more to do with time constraints than taste). So I came to this movie without many expectations.
From the hype, I was expecting to see a bog-standard high-school romance with a bit of blood-sucking action on the side.
How wrong was I?
First off, Twilight is a very long way from being your average teen romance. All swirling fog, tortured passions and oddly stilted dialogue it is both wildly atmospheric and strangely compelling and has as its centrepiece Robert Pattinson's Edward Cullen as the embodiment of the brooding bad boy hero — and you know what a sucker I am for bad boys.
Now Pattinson's already warranted a Male on Monday slot, so I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here about his looks, but suffice it to say, he is not conventionally handsome, rather he made we think of Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre (more about that in a bit). Pattinson's features are striking and unusual and a little bit odd making him ideal for the part of the tortured outsider he plays here. The fact that the young actor is also surprisingly charismatic and knows how to smoulder doesn't hurt a bit either.
As soon as Pattinson's Cullen first appears — striding into the high-school dinner hall and giving awkward new girl Bella a magnetic stare — his pasty white skin, hunched shoulders, sculpted features and tortured expression make him stand out as a Byronic anti-hero with the gothic intensity of a Heathcliffe or a Rochester. This is a guy who is not one of the crowd. He's apart, alone, aloof in a way that makes him instantly intriguing — and of course he's pretty gorgeous too.
Right from the get-go Bella is fascinated and so are we... And then when she has to sit next to him in a chemistry class and he glowers at her and strains away from her as if he can't stand to be near her (as it turns out he can't but the reasons why are far from ordinary) we're not just fascinated we're enthralled and also a little bit repulsed... And then, when he saves her from being crushed to death by a van with a superhuman display of strength and speed, well it's clear this guy has some very dark secrets.
As he says to Bella when she compares him with Superman: 'What if I'm not the hero? What if I'm the bad guy?' At which stage, Bella, like any good heroine worth her salt, is thinking, I don't care if he is the bad guy, he's wildly attractive and frankly irresistible.
Eventually, of course, Bella (played with commendable calm and certainty by Kristen Stewart) discovers that Edward's secret could be very bad for her health - but as it also means he can scale treetops in a single bound with her on his back, read people's minds, play baseball better than any pro and save her from a maniacal vampire tracker it's hard to hold it against him.
For a two-hour plus movie, there's actually very little plot, here. Instead what we get is oodles of moody atmosphere — the rainy, foggy, bleakly unsettling Pacific Northwest scenery adding a stark feeling of foreboding and beauty to every scene — and the slow evolution of the love between Bella and Edward.
Their passion is necessarily repressed - if they get too close Edward might go into a bloodlust frenzy and accidentally suck all the life out of her, literally. But as in all great gothic romances, it's the fact that Edward and Bella are forced to deny themselves any real expression of physical love that adds a whole new level of intensity to all the touches, the looks and the subtlely nuanced dialogue between them. In fact, Bella doesn't actually touch Edward for the first time until we're a good way into the movie, by which time she's already half-way in love with him - and the moment is electric, not least because she discovers his skin is ice cold.
Now, there's been a lot of talk about Meyer's hidden Mormon subtext in all this. Is she embedding messages into her text about adolescent chastity and the like? Frankly, that's far too hot a potato to handle for this couch potato blog — and anyway, anyone with teenagers will know perfectly well that you can embed as many subtexts as you like into what you tell them about sex, but it'll be up to them whether they choose to listen.
The point here is Edward and Bella's constrained situation adds a much higher level of sensuality to this movie than is usually the case with teen romances — and whatever Meyer's motives may have been, this movie certainly ain't chaste. The two young actors evoking a living, breathing eroticism in every one of their scenes together.
Take the sequence when Edward describes his physical reaction to Bella: 'Your scent is like a drug to me, it's like you're my own personal brand of heroine.' Or when he tells her how dangerous he is: 'I'm the world's most dangerous predator. Everything about me invites you in. My voice, my face, even my smell. As if I would need any of that. As if you could outrun me. As if you could fight me off. I'm designed to kill.'
How's that for full-on sexual tension?
Check out this YouTube link if you don't believe me.
In the end Bella's declaration of love is that much more powerful because of the danger she faces. She has to give Edward her complete trust, even when he's not sure he can trust himself.
So, my final verdict on Twilight is simply this. If you like your romance dark, driven, dangerous and full of gothic intensity... And your heroes the same way. You could do a lot worse. But don't expect to be entirely comfortable while you're watching. I found this film remarkably unsettling... but in the best possible way.
Now if you're in the mood for something fun and flirty on the other hand... With a lot of sexual tension and some completely unrepressed passion, then leave me a comment and you might win a copy of my latest book, Hot-Shot Tycoon, Indecent Proposal.
How's that for a subtly nuanced shameless plug??
Heidi is hard at work on her seventh Modern Heat novel — when she's not watching teen vampire movies. Her fifth book, Hot-Shot Tycoon, Indecent Proposal is due out in the UK in June and the US in September. While her sixth book will be out in the UK in November and is called Public Affair, Secretly Expecting.
Along with lots of other great PHS bloggers, she's also taking part in Brenda Novak's Online Auction in aid of Diabetes Research which kicks off today — and is offering an author critique of a full manuscript aimed at Harlequin Presents, which you can bid on here.