Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You”)
Written by: Richard LaGravenese (“Water for Elephants”)
When the “Twilight” films were unleashed upon the world, with their tales of romance between brooding vampires and the mere mortals who fell madly in love with them, the table was set for more supernatural monster/normal teenager love stories to come pouring out of Hollywood. While this particular genre tree has taken a little while to bear fruit, 2013 appears to be the year for new takes on the format, what with “The Twilight Saga’s” 800-pound gorilla finally ending its run. This year has already brought audiences a zombie-centric romantic comedy in the delightfully sweet “Warm Bodies,” while Valentine’s Day heralds the arrival of “Beautiful Creatures” and it’s mixture of ancient witchcraft and swoony teenage love.
“Beautiful Creatures” begins with high schooler Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) dreaming of a mysterious girl whose face he’s never able to catch a glimpse of. Ethan longs to get out of his boring southern town, applying to colleges as far away as possible. His attention is quickly diverted, however, upon the arrival of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a mysterious girl (hmm…) sent to live with her uncle, local recluse Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). Ethan falls immediately for Lena, and as their romance builds, Ethan learns Lena is a “caster” (read: witch) and that uncertainty clouds her future. For you see, upon her 16th birthday, she will undergo “the Claiming” which will forever paint her as either a dark or a light caster. All the while the town’s churchgoing elders, led by Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson) work to get Lena expelled from school and sent packing back to wherever it is she came from.
Unfortunately “Beautiful Creatures” doesn’t stop there. Director and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese commits the most commonly-occurring crime when it comes to adapting a young adult novel into a feature film: failing to actually “adapt” and instead merely “translating.” The film chugs along at decent pace until about halfway through when it dumps a washtub’s worth of mythological backstory all over everything. Emmy Rossum’s evil cousin Ridley storms in to do battle with Lena using shoddy special effects and spinning tables. Fine veteran actresses Eileen Atkins and Margo Martindale show up randomly to stand around in stupid witchy wigs to tell tales of prophecy and then promptly disappear again. And an otherwise well-done church showdown between old pros Irons and Thompson further complicates the plot by throwing in a villain of sorts who must be defeated.
It all reeks of table-setting for sequels that are hardly a guarantee and turns the film from a juicier, southern-fried “Twilight” into an overstuffed meal that, while not terrible, only leaves you with indigestion.