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Beautiful Creatures

Gothic girl

Beautiful Creatures

Twilight. You can’t talk about Beautiful Creatures without reference to the recently concluded mega-franchise that has pulled more money out of the pockets of teen girls than Max Factor. Nor does anyone seem to be trying.

Whether or not the book’s co-authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl were consciously trying to cash in on the success of Stephenie Meyer’s empire, there’s no question that the producers of the film are: In interviews, the film’s young stars say that it was pitched to them as “the next Twilight.”

But for all its efforts to cash in on a gigantic market looking for a new fix of teen hormones mixed with the supernatural, Beautiful Creatures has a lot going for it.

The setting is Gatlin, a small town in South Carolina. As seen through the eyes of high school junior Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), it’s a place where little breaks the tedium other than an annual re-enactment of Civil War battles (“like it’s gonna turn out different”). Ethan spends his time reading books that have been banned and dreaming of the day he can leave for college, preferably in a place with buildings more than two stories tall.

His life is enlivened considerably when he meets the new girl in town, Lena (Alice Englert). Shunned by their classmates for being different, she couldn’t care less. Ethan is attracted to her not only because she’s also a reader, but because she has been in his dreams for months, even before she moved to town.

Long story short, Lena is a “caster.” (Don’t call them witches.) She is from a long line of supernatural beings, and on her upcoming 16th birthday her fate will be decided for good or evil.

Those of you who prefer movies to have a beginning, middle, and end should be warned that the book was the first in a series of novels. Hollywood likes to put its money into series that will produce a steady stream of revenue over a decade or so, and Beautiful Creatures has a fairly unsatisfying conclusion. There’s no onscreen title saying “To be continued,” but there might as well be.

And the path to that ending, which takes more than two hours to arrive, is anything but direct. The story wanders erratically, and cheats on what is supposed to be its climax.

But if you can enjoy a film for its parts rather than the whole, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Jeremy Irons, for instance, who plays Lena’s benign and flamboyant uncle. Dressed in what appear to be castoffs from his wardrobe for The Borgias, he lives in a decaying mansion with an interior so deliriously art deco that you expect to see Fred Astaire come tapping down the winding staircase. (It has a fireplace so big you could not only park a Buick in it, you could probably three-point turn it.)

There’s also Emma Thompson as the looniest of the local loonies who embody every cliché you’ve ever heard about Southerners. She gets up at a church meeting concerning Lena to denounce such “unnatural abominations” as “atheists, homosexuals, liberals, Democrats, and Greenpeace.” Fortunately, Thompson doesn’t have to play this character for the entire film: Her body is possessed by the spirit of a departed caster with rather more modern ideas.

It’s closer to True Blood (in a PG way) than Twilight. The cast includes a menagerie of supernatural types, including Lena’s cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum), a literal siren who makes a spectacular entrance at Ethan’s school wearing a red sports car and not much else.

The director is Richard LaGravenese, generally employed as a screenwriter of movies that walk a line between romance and the supernatural: The Bridges of Madison County, Beloved, The Horse Whisperer, The Fisher King, Water for Elephants. (You can put the upcoming Liberace biography Behind the Candelabra where you will.) Despite the high level of snark about life in the South, he and director of photographer Philippe Rousselot capture it in plenty of widescreen glory. (And for all its faults this town must have a heck of a book store, as Ethan acquires a copy of Charles Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense overnight after he sees Lena reading it.)

Watch the trailer for Beautiful Creatures

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