When Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) stands in the light of a dewy sunbeam to reveal his sparkling vampire skin, a familiar Rihanna refrain mentally kicked into play. “Shine bright like a diamond….Shine bright like a diamond….You’re a shooting star I see, a vision of ecstasy….Feel the warmth, we’ll never die.” That’s a nice emo tune for a vampire, I think, certainly a way of de-escalating things considering that Edward had just admitted to his human object of affection, Bella (Kristen Stewart), that he was an immortal, blood-sucking being.

But the conversation doesn’t go the pop chart route. Instead it gets weirdly dark and intense, violating so many rules of what a healthy, romantic relationship should be. Leaving aside for a moment that Edward has just dragged Bella into the remote forest interior in order to better bare his soul, and chest, to her, he repeatedly tells the woman he loves that he’s a killer, a creature designed to murder people. If that’s not enough to get your crush’s heart racing, he then waxes poetic and compares her to his “own personal brand of heroin,” because really, what girl doesn’t think of herself as an illegal substance that can lead to multiple organ failure?

At this point in the movie, I’d had enough of Edward’s abusive behavior and was angry that Bella was being set up as a collaborator. For every one of his condescensions or outright threats, she responds with more emphatic trust in his basic goodness, or sexiness – it’s never made clear. After Edward uses his superhuman speed and strength and saves her from an out-of-control car, she begins to suspect something otherworldly about her pale, moody lab partner. He coolly responds that no one’s going to believe her and suggests that the silly little girl just hit her head. When she won’t give up her suspicions, he basically tells her to fuck off if she values her life. Edward’s not always so abrasive though, swooping in to save Bella from some thugs while she’s wandering alone at night down a dark alley. It would have been chivalric had she not been in another town a hundred miles away. In this case, it’s just stalking.

But I couldn’t turn away, and not because I was captivated by Pattinson’s beauty (Long live Cedric Diggory!). It was because I’d naively promised a friend to watch the whole film and because there was actually a plot to this that didn’t involve the tortured lovers spouting fan fiction dialogue to one another. Bella is a newcomer to Forks, Washington and attempts to re-establish a relationship with her father (Billy Burke). She quickly makes a few friends, including a chatty Anna Kendrick, one of the few spots of sunshine in the whole film.

They aren’t nearly as interesting as the lab partner though. For all Edward’s talk about being a killer, he belongs to a “vegetarian” vampire family, led by the town doctor (Peter Facinelli), that feasts on animal blood. This annoys a group – or coven – of itinerant vampires, who also dislike Edward and Bella’s inter-species affair. (Cue Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”) There’s a showdown and lots of pearly white fangs, but there is also a rush of energy once the vampire battle gets going. Watching people, or vampires, clawing and gnashing at one another is infinitely preferable to watching two people fail at building a healthy relationship.

When the film isn’t setting a bad example for its young audience, however, it takes beautiful advantage of its Pacific Northwest landscape. The movie is saturated in dusky blues and greens and makes living in a place with ancient, towering trees and no sun seem almost dreamy in a supernatural way. At the same time, it weighs down the angsty teen relationship, which may be how high schoolers like it. But for those of us in our mid-thirties and not drawn to vampire films, there are too many overdramatic flourishes that end up being tedious rather than mysterious. There are only so many times we need to see the lovers stare into each other’s soul or try to undress each other with their eyes, whatever they are doing. I’d prefer more Bella and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), her shy admirer who, because he is still human and not yet a werewolf capable of tearing her to pieces, doesn’t get much screentime. Thankfully, there are four more films in this series.

Released: 2008
Prod: Wyck Godfrey, Greg Mooradian, Mark Morgan
Dir: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Burke, Cam Gigandet, Rachelle Lefèvre, Edi Gathegi, Taylor Lautner, Gil Birmingham, Anna Kendrick, Christian Serratos, Michael Welch, Gregory Tyree Boyce, Justin Chon
Time: 121 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015