Susan Granger's review of 'Beautiful Creatures'
Where have all the Twihards gone? What will be the next romantic fantasy in their lives? Attempting to fill that void is writer/director Richard LaGravenese's supernatural Southern Gothic love story, based on his atmospheric adaption of the first novel in the best-selling series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
After problems erupted at her previous school, alienated 15-year-old Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) moves to the stifling, superstitious town of Gatlin, S.C., where she anxiously tries to keep a low profile while counting down the days until her 16th birthday, when a family curse predicts that she will undergo a "claiming" ritual to determine whether she's a Light (good) or Dark (evil) Caster, as in "spell caster." As a mysterious outsider, she immediately captures the heart of bookish, lovelorn Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who dreams about an ethereal, dark-haired stranger on a Civil War battlefield. Steeped in romanticized literary influences, like Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut and Henry Miller, he's the narrator as, despite their obvious differences, Lena and Ethan come to discover they may be following the same fateful footpath as two 19th-century lovers.
With the screen adaptations of "A Little Princess," "Like Water for Elephants," "The Fisher King" and "Bridges of Madison County" to his credit, LaGravenese adapts the maudlin cliches of adolescent angst, freely revising the source material in a creepy, complicated manner that will either inspire or infuriate avid fans of the young adult novels.
"Love is a spell created by mortals to give women something they can have besides power," explains the devilish Sarafine (Emma Thompson in a dual role), jousting with Lena's reclusive uncle, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), who fears for Lena's future if she, as a witch, loves a mortal.
Emmy Rossum's and Viola Davis' supporting characters pivot their own plans while Alice Englert (director Jane Campion's daughter) makes a beguiling cinematic splash, as she did opposite Elle Fanning in "Ginger & Rosa."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Beautiful Creatures" is a sudsy, spooky 6, aimed at lusty adolescents.