Beautiful Creatures (2013)

When I first saw the advertisements for Beautiful Creatures, I thought, 'Oh boy, more witches, vampires, werewolves or what-have-you.' Not that I don't enjoy a good paranormal yarn but we've had rather a lot of them lately. As it turns out, the film is based on a book in a Young Adult fantasy series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Not sure what to expect, I put the movie on, encouraged by the fact that it features some of my favorite actors: Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis and Emma Thompson. What I discovered was that the young stars, Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert, are not only as terrific as their legendary counterparts, but the story is fun, the special effects good, and the script full of humour. Ehrenreich plays a popular high school kid, Ethan, who has aspirations of moving out of the small town where he lives in South Carolina and on to college and bigger and better things. A new girl, Lena Duchannes, played by Englert, comes to town, moving in with her creepy uncle, Macon Ravenwood (Irons). When Ethan meets Lena, he finds her far more fascinating than anything in his humdrum existence. Lena is dark and moody, and possesses a certain power that ostracises her and makes the town folk suspect her of being in line with evil forces.

As it is, her relatives already have such a reputation. Ethan doesn't care. He's drawn to her though Lena tries to rebuff him. He does his best to befriend her, ignoring the censure of his pals and girlfriend. What he doesn't know is that Lena is a witch who on her sixteenth birthday will either become aligned with the powers of good or evil, and doesn't seem to have much choice over which way the pendulum swings. Her mother Sarafine, played by Thompson, has taken possession of the body of a local woman, and she and Lena's out-cast cousin, Ridley (Emmy Rossum), are trying to push Lena to the dark side. Though, initially, we assume that Ravenwood and the odd relatives that hang around his house must be evil too, in reality, they're just trying to keep Lena safe from her truly wicked mother and cousin and from putting herself and Ethan in further danger by succumbing to their inevitable connection. Lena and Ethan also share a past, which Ethan has become aware of in his dreams. Their spirits were embodied as lovers during the Civil War when the local people were just as fearful of her powers as they are in the present. Yet it's the connection they form in the here and now that cause them to fall in love, a force so strong it will help Lena resist the darkness that threatens to overcome her life.

The story may sound rather like a gothic melodrama, but the wonderful acting and the comedic aspects of the characters and dialogue make this movie vibrant and modern. It's rare to see Thompson as uninhibited as she is in the role of Sarafine... a dastardly delight. Irons is sexy and slithery as Ravenwood, and Davis is eerie as the sort of voodoo seer and saviour she portrays. Both Ehrenreich and Englert are fresh and fearless, and Rossum is gorgeously naughty. The ending, though not entirely unpredictable, builds to a delicious climax. Beautiful Creatures is an escape into a world so inventive and interesting, you won't be able to help succumbing to its charms.

Movie reviewed by Georgina Young-Ellis

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