You might think of "Beautiful Creatures" as just another "Twilight" wannabe. I prefer to think of it as the showcase that a great British actress has been waiting for.
The biggest surprise of the latest supernatural sensation isn't the odd new girl, her even odder uncle, glass suddenly and dangerously breaking in a small-town high school classroom or the innocent seductiveness of its young actors. No, it's that this movie, based on the first of the Southern gothic young adult novels in a series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, gives Emma Thompson her meatiest role in many years.
It's the first day of school in the fictitious town of Gatlin, S.C., and there's a strange new student who's just arrived in town. But really, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who's lived in Gatlin his whole life, is almost as weird. The high school junior rejects the incredibly hot Emily Asher (Zoey Deutch), after all, and seems from a different age: His favorite books include "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Naked Lunch," "The Fountainhead" and that tortured teenage classic "The Catcher in the Rye."
|2.5 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson|
|Director: Richard LaGravenese|
|Running time: 124 minutes|
But Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) is the first Ravenwood anyone's seen in two decades, and very scary things start happening as soon as she shows up. The class is reading "To Kill a Mockingbird," and her recluse uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) has something in common with Boo Radley. Boo never wore leopard-print scarves, though.
Ethan falls hard for Lena, who finally reveals her secret: She's a witch (they prefer the term "caster") and will be "claimed" on her upcoming 16th birthday by either good or evil, depending on her "true nature." To which the optimistic Ethan responds, "Lena, I don't believe we have one fate and no choice."
Oh, and it's only female casters who get "claimed." And every villain in the story is female. You can tell they're bad because they wear a lot of kohl. There's an awful lot of sexism here for a story written by two women. But some said the same about the "Twilight" books.
One of the villains is Sarafine, who takes over the body of one of the town's church ladies, played by Emma Thompson. The actress is a tour de force in this dual role, simply astonishing in her sudden sensuality.
The details might make "Beautiful Creatures" look a lot like "Twilight," but this surprisingly interesting little film belongs to a much older tradition, one hinted at by Ethan's reading choices. "I don't know who I really am inside," Lena declares in talking about her fears of the claiming. She might seem a little odd, but she's a typical teenager, after all.