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Beautiful Creatures (Warner Bros. Pictures, PG-13)

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film beaut-creatures_smAdult filmgoers need not run out to catch this one, although its excellent supporting cast gives a little more acting heft to the Southern Gothic mystery.

 


film beaut-creatures

Beautiful Creatures is a supernatural-drenched romantic fantasy adventure set in a Gothic South. The tale centers on a small-town human boy and a mysterious new girl in town, who is a member of a wealthy, reclusive, and mysterious old local family rumored to be involved with witchcraft.

Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) is a 16-year-old who longs to leave the small Southern town where he’s lived all his life. The new school year brings a new girl to town, Lena (Alice Englert), the niece of the town’s wealthiest and most reclusive resident. The mysterious Ravenwood family has long been rumored to have supernatural dealings and the high school’s narrow-minded girls, and their families are anything but welcoming to the world-traveled yet sheltered Lena. Yet Ethan is drawn to the reserved, dark-haired girl.

Based on a young adult novel, the visually lush, pretty Beautiful Creatures is clearly aimed at the Twilight audience, but it has more to offer than one might expect. One thing that sets this teen flick apart is that it features some serious actors in supporting roles, including Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and Viola Davis, much like the Harry Potter series. Its story of magic and good vs. evil also might appeal to Harry Potter fans. The film’s young stars, Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert, are attractive and have a certain chemistry in their scenes together. The story mixes in elements of Gothic romance, a Civil War curse, family intrigue, supernatural adventure, and star-crossed love, giving it considerable potential for its PG-13 audience, particularly girls.

The mysterious family is the source of town gossip about supernatural dealings going back to the Civil War. The truth is that they are witches, although they prefer to be called “Casters,” and 15-year-old Lena is at the center of a family struggle within their magical world. Jeremy Irons plays the girl’s reclusive wealthy uncle Macon Ravenwood, the last of the old family inhabiting the seemingly decaying antebellum mansion. But like the family, looks are deceiving. Irons and Thompson deliver some acting sparks in good-and-evil family showdowns as they struggle over Lena’s fate; Emmy Rossum adds a nice modern touch as a seductive cousin in a red sports car; and the family’s globetrotting ways give the film a touch of sophistication. Thomas Mann plays Ethan’s best friend, Link, and Margo Martindale plays Lena’s supportive Aunt Del in two nice performances.

The story is set in a small Southern town, and elements of Gothic romance and even horror abound, giving the film a touch of Jane Eyre, as well. The literary is sprinkled in elsewhere; in fact, the two teens bond over an interest in books. The movie makes good use of it atmospheric setting and it features some nice special effects, particularly a scene during a Ravenwood family dinner involving a spinning table. The visual elements are lushly attractive and appropriately magical and spooky. Director Richard LaGravenese manages to cleverly mix in a few comic elements and a touch of social commentary.

Despite all that, Lena and Ethan live in a more realistic high school world than Twilight’s Bella and Edward. They deal with some of the same issues other teens do: their differing social standing, disapproving adults, high school cliques, gossip, and the pressures of small-town life. The touch of realism is refreshing and unexpected.

Still, Beautiful Creatures is geared to a teen audience, even tweens. Adult filmgoers need not run out to catch this one, although its excellent supporting cast gives a little more acting heft to the Southern Gothic mystery. The Twilight audience might find that the supporting cast lacks the same banquet of young eye-candy that earlier franchise offered. The story is good but too teen for most adult audiences, which puts Beautiful Creatures in an awkward place, and its crossover appeal might be less than its supporting cast would suggest. But for those looking for a nice PG-13 romance and a little supernatural entertainment, the pretty, mysterious Beautiful Creatures offers a good fit. | Cate Marquis

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