The Twilight Saga is over. Until the inevitable reboot comes along, what will fill the void left in teenage hearts? Moviegoers could do worse than Beautiful Creatures, a Southern Gothic teen romance (with magic) that’s more fun than anyone over 16 has a right to expect.
Based on the young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the “beautiful creatures” are Casters, a supernaturally gifted race we mortals know as “witches.” (Casters do not like to be called “witches,” so mind your language.) The setting is a tiny town in South Carolina, a place of oppressive Christianity, banned books, and deep, dark secrets that date back to (of course) the Civil War.
The Romeo of this mismatched pair is Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a cheerful lad who reads banned books (Vonnegut, Salinger) and dreams of escape. He’s funny, too: When one of his classmates tells him he’s on the highway to Hell, he deadpans that he’s going to stop by New York City on the way. The Juliet is Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a glum 15-year-old who also reads banned books (Bukowski) and just happens to be a Caster on the verge of womanhood—a time, we soon learn, of great peril for Lena and those closest to her.
The romance meanders along in a perhaps too leisurely fashion—of course Lena writes and “collects” poems, what moody girl doesn’t?—but when the supernatural shenanigans kick in, the movie becomes great fun.
The “fun” is generously supplied by the adult actors, all of whom are having a wonderful time. Closest to the kids are Lena’s Uncle Macon, played by Jeremy Irons with menace and wicked humor, and Ethan’s substitute mom Amma, a seer played by Viola Davis with authority and steel. Eileen Atkins is a purple-haired majesty as the Caster matriarch. Best of all, however, are the wicked witches of the family,
Emmy Rossum as Lena’s man-eating cousin Ridley—she’s a Siren who could vamp the dead—and Emma Thompson as Lena’s mom-from-Hell Sarafine, who has the nasty wit to inhabit the body of one of the town’s most fire-and-brimstone born-again Christians.
The only problem is a familiar one: The villains are more attractive than the teenagers. Sarafine dreams of Lena as a deliverer, who will help cleans the Earth of humans—and, truth to tell, it’s a pretty beguiling vision. And when the teenager triumphs, as she inevitably must, it’s kind of a let down.
Still, these creatures have a lot more going for them than the smug, antiseptic vampires of the Twilight series. And that’s something.