WHEN MORVERN Callar comes home to find her boyfriend dead, it's the start of a transformation bordering on the religious.
But in "Morvern Callar," her kind of rapture is so self-directed and private, we can only observe it from the outside. That tension winds us ever tighter, but we never stop watching.
It's Christmas Eve when Morvern (Samantha Morton), a store clerk in a Scottish port town, finds her boyfriend lying in a pool of blood. His death is caught in red, blinking relief by the lights of the Christmas tree.
His suicide note, probably the most casual ever penned, says "It seemed like the right thing to do." The dead man also directs Morvern to some gifts for her: a Walkman, a leather coat and a tape of songs he has specially recorded for her, a collection that includes songs by Can, Stereolab and the Velvet Underground.
He has also left an entire novel, written on his computer, which he wants Morvern to submit for publication.
Morvern refuses to, or simply cannot, emotionally deal with the horror. So her reaction is to accept everything and be hindered by nothing. After all, his suicide was an act of complete selfishness.
So she leaves her dead lover in a heap while she goes to a wild party with her best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott). She wears the jacket and listens to the music, and she removes his name from the novel, replacing it with her own.
She's not done yet. His bank card will finance a trip to Spain with Lanna. And when she finally decides to take care of his disposal, she does so with the sang-froid directness of a slaughterhouse worker, listening to the Velvet Underground's "I'm Sticking With You."
The movie, which director Lynne Ramsay and co-writer Liana Dognini adapted from Scottish writer Alan Warner's 1995 cult novel, then follows the girlfriends' less-than-attractive exploits in Spain.
What happens, externally speaking, is not particularly noteworthy. They are booked on a package tour that throws them in with party animals whose idea of a good time is toilet-papering hotel rooms and attending raves. And while they're in Spain, Morvern meets with some British publishers who are very interested in "her" new novel.
Ramsay, who made 1999's "Ratcatcher" and will be directing an adaptation of "The Lovely Bones," concentrates on everything around the truth. It's a movie of near-revelations: Lanna confesses to a dark secret of her own, and Morvern, in her own way, tries to tell Lanna what happened. "He's left me," she says. "He's really gone. He's not coming back."
But the real story takes place inside Morvern's Walkman-covered head and, sorry folks, there's no voice-over narration to help us along.
What is Morvern thinking? Is she just listening to the music? Avoiding thoughts of the suicide? Determined to liberate herself from her previous life? We hang on every gesture -- every detail of her body, voice and mannerisms -- waiting for a sign, anything to let us know what's going on in there.
After her mute and near-mute performances in Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown" and Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" as a futuristic clairvoyant, Morton shows a hypnotic near-silence here that seems to have become a mini tradition. As Morvern, she's disconcertingly enigmatic, often bordering on catatonic. But she carries the movie effortlessly. And even though we're on the outside looking in, she carries us along, too.
MORVERN CALLAR (Unrated, 97 minutes) -- Contains macabre material, nudity, obscenity and some violence. The thick Scottish accents may be difficult for some to follow. At Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.
Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton, front) reacts to her boyfriend's suicide by going away with friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott, leaning out of car) in the film adaptation of Alan Warner's cult novel.