I do feel like, however, with its otherworldly family living at arm’s length from locals in a strange house, Beautiful Creatures does poke a bit of fun here and there with the idea of Twilight. In particular, Kyle Gallner shows up playing a minor character who looks exactly the way you would look if you were doing a send-up of the pale, mopey vampire Edward. Little touches like this earn the movie much-needed goodwill.
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is itching to move away from his small town. When new girl Lena Ducchanes (Alice Englert) shows up at school, he’s attracted to her not-from-here-ness and, perhaps, to the reaction she causes among the “good Christians” of the town. Her family, which has deep roots in the area, according to local legend, is made up of a bunch of devil- worshippers. Lena might have come to live with her uncle Macon Ravenswood (Jeremy Irons) in hopes of being a normal girl, at least for a little while, but the townsfolk won’t let her escape the label of a Satan-worshiping Ravenswood.
Ethan cares nothing about all this silliness, though he does seem open to the idea that Lena is more than she appears to be, especially since she bears a strong resemblance to the girl he’s been dreaming about. The more they hang out, the more it becomes clear that they are Meant To Be Together by a century-and-a-half-old curse that also threatens to tear them apart. Ya see, Lena is a caster from a family of casters (the word they prefer to “witch”). When she turns 16 in a few months, her true nature will be revealed, and she’ll find out whether she’s going to be, essentially, a good witch or a bad witch.
I haven’t read the book, and the movie doesn’t give a whole lot of “everything you ever wanted to know about casters” type detail, so I’ll spare you the feminist critique of the idea that a dark male caster like Macon can choose to be good but female casters have no choice in whether they are good or evil. I will, however, nitpick with the scattered, incomplete education we get in the world of the casters. I suppose as supernatural angsty teens go, vampires and zombies have fewer things that need to be explained about their mythology. (A simple “I don’t burst into flames; I sparkle like a disco ball” and you’re pretty much up to speed in Twilight. “Braaaaaaains” gets you the general idea of what’s happening in Warm Bodies.) But the idea of witches (good or bad, what are their powers, what are their restrictions) gives you more creatively to play with as well. A movie like this needs to embrace that. Instead, here we get jumble of pieces of caster lore: There’s a caster library! And some kind of sweet/sour 16 ceremony! And there are curses! And here’s Lena’s giant family, most of whom are only in, like, three scenes! Some pretty serious actors show up to vamp as players in this world: Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale. But they don’t get to do much. (And, no, Jeremy Irons won’t be winning an Oscar for this role, but at least he gets to have a little campy fun of the type usually reserved for a Ben Kingsley.)
You get a pile of plot points over here, a holding pen of actors over there and a bunch of swirly, smoky CGI. And occasionally a bit of fun breaks out, much like the lightning strike that appears on a hill each night to frighten the yokels. Emma Thompson, while not used nearly enough, does get to be ridiculous in a way that might be a silly good time. Ehrenreich’s Ethan is goofily entertaining, and Englert’s Lena has more spunk than, say, Kristen Stewart’s Bella. But overall Beautiful Creatures feels like parts of a story still waiting to be assembled. C+
Rated PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material. Directed and adapted from the novel by Richard LaGravenese, Beautiful Creatures is two hours and four minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros.