Twilight with witches instead of vampires, Beautiful Creatures serves up another tale of star-crossed lovers blighted by warring supernatural cliques, and does so by mapping another invented mythology onto the hormonally charged world of teenage desires.
This time, however, it’s the boy who is mortal and the girl who has been blessed, or cursed, with special powers. He’s 17-year-old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), trapped at home with shut-in widowed dad in stifling Bible Belt backwater Gatlin, a South Carolina town with 12 churches and one library, and a place where banned books outnumber the books you are allowed to read.
Even so, Ethan’s only escape is through literature until the arrival of brooding teenage outcast Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert, daughter of New Zealand director Jane Campion and last seen in Ginger and Rosa), member of the mysterious Ravenwood clan, who have been longstanding objects of local fear and suspicion.
It’s soon clear that she shares his interest in prickly banned authors (Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski); that she possesses strange powers becomes apparent a little later. After a spot of window shattering at school, it transpires that she is a Caster (a witch to you and me) and will be claimed by the forces of dark or light when she turns 16.
The plot – cooked up by young adult authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl in a series of bestselling novels – throws in a convoluted back-story involving a family curse, a Civil War tragedy and the possibility of teenage love conquering all, but the film’s real pleasures lie in its ripe performances – with Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson hamming it up amid the supernatural strife as Ravenwood rivals, while Emmy Rossum’s vampy siren pouts on the sidelines.
The film’s equally ripe production design adds to the fun, and the shape-changing Ravenwood mansion – all hanging moss and creepers on the outside, swanky Art Deco on the inside – is worth the price of admission on its own.
In cinemas from Wednesday 13th February.
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