‘Beautiful Creatures,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


I’m probably the wrong demographic for “Beautiful Creatures,” the latest effort at franchise-building in the teen supernatural-romance genre.

Based on the first in a series of books by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, “Beautiful Creatures” (opening Thursday) hopes the “Twihards” can shift their focus from the undead to the magically endowed. All it takes, apparently, is a Romeo-and-Juliet couple – one mortal/normal, the other empowered, with at least one of their families saying, “You must forget him/her.”

Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, “Beautiful Creatures” is set in a backwards South Carolina backwater (actually, that’s probably redundant), Gatlin. A high-school junior named Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich, who was interesting in Francis Coppola’s “Tetro”) lives with his reclusive (read: unseen in this film) father, still mourning the death of Ethan’s mother in a car accident a couple of years earlier. This is all backstory that never pays off, at least not in this installment of the series.

Ethan is a free-thinker in a closed-minded town. We know this because he is initially glimpsed reading Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which, it is repeatedly noted, has been banned from the local library. Yes, it’s one of those towns.

Ethan can’t wait to get out of this dump and really start his life – at least until he meets Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert, real-life daughter of filmmaker Jane Campion), niece of another local recluse, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons, hilariously fashion-forward and happily wallowing in this plummy role).

The Ravenwoods apparently founded the town, but Macon is the town’s answer to Boo Radley. Just to make sure we get that point, Ethan’s English class is reading “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which Ethan’s ex-girlfriend says her mother won’t let her read because it, too, has been banned.

Ethan is fascinated with Lena, all but following her home like a puppy. She resists his blandishments, eager and witty though they are, until he sticks up for her at school – and then has an otherworldly moment with her when he gives her a locket he found in the local cemetery.

What it all comes down to is that Lena is a “caster”; calling her a witch is like calling an athlete a jock, she says – it’s pejorative. She’s a few months away from her 16th birthday, at which time the supernatural forces that rule her family will determine whether she goes to the dark side or the light side (which apparently is less filling or tastes great – that’s not clear).

This review continues on my website.

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