BY DAN METCALF
Clipper Film Correspondent
Rated PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material.
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson, Margo Martindale, Eileen Atkins, Zoey Deutch, Rachel Brosnahan.
Directed by Richard LaGravenese.
Written by Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
Oh, what Stephenie Meyer hath wrought. Ever since the runaway success of the Twilight books and mostly disappointing films (depending on which gender you ask), it seems everyone is getting into the supernatural romance game. Such trends leave us with the likes of vampires who sparkle and zombies who walk around all lovesick (Warm Bodies). The latest is Beautiful Creatures, a movie (based on the novel by the same name) about a young witch in love with a human boy.
Alden Ahrenrich stars as Ethan, a high school student about to begin his junior year in a small South Carolina town. On the first day of school, he meets Lena (Alice Englert), the beautiful, mysterious niece of the reclusive Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), a wealthy landowner. Lena also resembles a girl who has been haunting Ethan's dreams.
As Ethan and Lena form a friendship, they eventually become romantically involved. That leads to family introductions. Since Ethan's mother was killed in a car crash a few years earlier, a caretaker named Amma (Violet Davis) looks after the boy and his father (who is mentioned, but never seen in the film). As for Lena's clan, they are more-than-a-little eccentric, and include Macon, a folksy aunt and a few cousins. One of those cousins is Ridley (Emmy Rossum), a sexy vixen who seems bent on tempting all kinds of bad behavior among humans and her own kind.
Ethan soon discovers that Lena has certain uncontrollable powers and that she is a “caster,” which is apparently a less satanic term for “witch.” Lena is nearing the age of 16, when her destiny will lead her to become either a good witch or a bad one. Macon tries hard to keep Lena from being taken by evil forces by shielding her from the ghost of her evil mother Sarafine, who occasionally possesses the body of the town's religious prude Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson). Sarafine works in concert with Ridley to prompt Lena's more evil tendencies. Complicating things even more is the romance between Lena and Ethan, since witch-human relationships almost always end in disaster. Their relationship is made more complex due to a Civil War era curse involving their ancestors – a curse that could turn the teenage witch evil and unleash a reign of evil caster dominance on the world.
Beautiful Creatures is a movie “cursed” for good — and evil — due to a script that is often witty, engaging and poignant. The bad side of that screenplay is a story burdened by a substantial amount of exposition, as the characters are required to explain centuries of history and witch culture in order to keep audiences up to speed. That means a lot of well-written dialogue is wasted on back-story, making the movie a little tedious to the point of being occasionally boring.
One of the bright spots for Beautiful Creatures is a fine cast anchored by veterans Irons and Thompson. Newcomers Ehrenreich and Englert (who is the daughter of renowned director Jane Campion) also show legitimate big-screen promise and provide some welcome romantic chemistry (you hear THAT, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson?).
Beautiful Creatures is rated PG-13 for some non-gory violence and some sexual innuendo, but nothing worse than most teens see on a regular basis. As for the “witchy-satanic” element, it would seem that the authors of the original novel are working from the premise that good and evil exist – even in the world of witchcraft, and that God created witches, too. This may be a problem for witch story purists, but breaking apart the lore and culture of mythical creatures for the sake of romance is a trend that may be here to stay. You may not see a single witch riding on a broom in Beautiful Creatures, but you will see plenty of forbidden teen love.
So much for convention.