Based on the first book in the Caster Chronicles series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, ‘Beautiful Creatures’ is the film that ‘Twilight’ yearned to be.
Smart, sassy and entertainingly camp, Richard LaGravenese’s supernatural love story is a guilty pleasure riddled with teen angst, mystical curses and ridiculous plot twists as it plays out the forbidden romance of a mortal boy and an enchanted girl.
Here, we’re spared pouting vampires and bare-chested werewolves, and plunged instead into the choking kudzu of South Carolina, where witches – or Casters as they prefer to be called – stare mournfully from magnificent gothic mansions.
LaGravenese marshals an impressive cast to lend gravitas to peripheral adult roles.
Oscar winners Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson engage in a private battle to determine who can chew the most scenery in limited screen time.
The London-born actress triumphs in their pivotal showdown, slinking like a wild cat as she whoops, cackles and tousles her hair with villainous glee.
Subtlety packs its bags and heads out of town early in LaGravenese’s script, which labours heavily on the bogus hocus-pocus and hammers home every plot development.
Thus, when the accursed heroine puts the safety of the people she loves before her own happiness, the film cuts to the town’s pastor delivering a heartfelt sermon on the theme of sacrifice.
We get it.
Seventeen-year-old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is itching to escape the backwater of Gatlin for the big city.
“It’s South Carolina’s least famous middle of nowhere,” he drawls in voiceover.
His restlessness is soothed by the arrival of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the enigmatic niece of reclusive landowner Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons).
She looks exactly like the girl who has been haunting Ethan’s dreams and it takes no time for the love-struck lad to fall for her sullen charms.
Alas, Lena is reluctant to let Ethan into her life because she is a Caster and on her forthcoming 16th birthday she must take part in a ritual known as the Claiming, which will dictate whether she is destined to use her powers for good or evil.
A burgeoning attraction to Ethan – a mortal – is forbidden but Lena cannot resist his goofy grin, despite dire warnings from Bible-bashing busybody Mrs Lincoln (Emma Thompson) and town librarian Amma (Viola Davis).
‘Beautiful Creatures’ is an effervescent opening salvo, peppered with snappy dialogue: “That was a dead end conversation on a road to nowhere. I must have missed the exit to fascinating.”
Ehrenreich and Englert are an attractive and sweetly innocent central pairing, playing their roles straight and since while co-stars ham it up a treat.
Some of the digital effects are admittedly unconvincing and every twist is telegraphed in advance.
Yet, for all its predictability and contrivance, as soapy, teen-friendly fare, LaGravenese’s film casts a spell.
Star Rating 3½