Beautiful Creatures gives supernatural teenage romance a good name, or at least a better one than the entire Twilight Saga offered. • Star-crossed lovers behave credibly in occult circumstances, played by actors with more than one expression, surrounded by characters with more to do than posing and the occasional wire stunt. Dialogue is closer in teen spirit to Buffy the Mean Girls Slayer than mope notes passed in class, and the plot actually moves at a brisk pace. Imagine that, Stephenie Meyer.
Writer-director Richard LaGravenese, working from the first book of a trilogy deserving to become a movie franchise, understands that the sillier these mystical romances get, the less seriously they should be taken. Beautiful Creatures injects True Blood into the Twilight template, and the results, while not perfect, are much more entertaining.
The difference is clear from a sardonic introductory voice-over by country boy Ethan Wate, played by Alden Ehrenreich, a newcomer with a hint of young Nicholson in his eyebrows and roguish smile. Ethan lives in Gatlin, S.C., a hick town his late mother described as populated by "the ones too stupid to leave and the ones too stuck to move." Ethan plans to break that cycle, inspired by classic books banned by local Christian conservatives — a recurring target for satire.
New in school is Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a relation of the Ravenwood clan that pioneered Gatlin and is rumored to be Satan worshippers. Close but not quite. They're actually Casters — a genteel term for witches — led by Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons, pouring on syrupy Southern menace). When Lena turns 16 she'll become a Caster. Macon hopes she'll be a good witch. Lena's estranged mother, Sarafine (Emma Thompson), has darker, campier intentions in mind.
If Bella and Edward taught us anything, it's that romance between a mortal and a paranormal has its ups and downs. Ethan and Lena are no exception. LaGravenese expands such complications to broad eccentricity, especially Emmy Rossum's succubus Ravenwood cousin who'd devour Twilight's hunks. Even when sequences fall flat — a dining room tornado of exposition, Civil War flashbacks — enough satisfying weird stuff has passed to encourage patience.
Beautiful Creatures could only be more pleasantly surprising if it sold as many tickets as a Twilight flick. Of course that won't happen. This movie doesn't pander to pin-up sensibilities encouraging attendance because the cast is soooo cute. It actually has the nerve to make actors over age 50 vital to a story with more at stake than who'll marry whom and what their baby will be. And even if it were shallow, Beautiful Creatures wouldn't be presumptuous enough to call itself a saga.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @Steve Persall.
Warner Bros. photos