Film Review: Beautiful Creatures

MATTHEW DALLAS
Last updated 15:44 22/02/2013
Beautiful creatures
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FAMILIAR SPELL: The forbidden affair between mortal Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) and witch Lena (Alice Englert) receives a frosty reception in Beautiful Creatures, the latest supernatural romance saga off the rank.

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REVIEW: There was a time when a teen fantasy movie could get away with just telling a good tale.

There was no need or much desire to establish convoluted mythologies or position characters in the context of a wider saga.

As I watched Beautiful Creatures go from plucky boy-girl witchy-romance in its first hour, to a bloated, exhausting mess in its second, I cast my mind back to the pictures I adored in my adolescence.

I thanked the movie gods that The Lost Boys (1987) wasn't based on a popular book series, otherwise we would have been subjected to the personal history of every vampire and slayer. Nope, the movie just filled its water pistols with holy water and got on with it. Hell, we didn't even find out who the head vampire was until the last five minutes.

Okay, maybe it's mean to set a new release against a cult classic. A more comparable flick in terms of audience would be teen witch drama The Craft (1996), which certainly wasn't one for the ages. But again, at least it had its fun and didn't bury itself in ceaseless backstory.

Beautiful Creatures starts promising enough, with a lively narration from a teenage boy lamenting his dead end, small-minded South Carolina hometown. Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) tells us more books have been banned at the Gatlin county library than haven't, and most folks idea of a good time is reenacting Civil War battles.

Armed with a thick Southern drawl, dimples and good hair, Ethan is expected to charm both young female viewers and the new girl in class, the shy but sharp-tongued Lena (New Zealand's Alice Englert, daughter of Jane Campion).

Lena is from the mysterious and feared Ravenwood clan, a family of  'casters' (as in spell casters). Almost 16, she faces 'The Claiming', when her ''true self'' will be revealed - be it a caster on the side of light (good girl) or dark (bad girl). If that's not enough to deal with, she also bares a family curse dating back to the Civil War.

Undeterred by his girlfriend's high maintenance, Ethan tries to help Lena fend off her more nasty relatives, who want her to embrace dark magic.

Director Richard LaGravenese, a master of Hollywood mush (P.S. I Love You, Water For Elephants) has a knack for teen repartee, and the young leads share a keen chemistry. But these virtues and the amusing tone, best described as Southern gothic bubblegum, soon give way to dreary flashbacks and swags of exposition-heavy dialogue, as we're told about the different types of casters, their origins, oh and then there's the 'seekers' and the Book of Moons.

Before long, every ounce of fun in the movie has been explained away, leaving us with a Twilight clone, with swampy trees full of Spanish Moss filling in for pines and fog.

One could almost suspect the writers of the Caster Chronicles (there are four books) sat down with the specific objective of mashing-up Twilight, True Blood and Harry Potter in the hope of hitting paydirt.

In paperback perhaps, but not at the multiplex. In the two weeks since its US release, Beautiful Creatures had only recouped $12 million of its $60m budget, suggesting all the franchise building was for nought.

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And if you thought Sean Penn's work in Gangster Squad had the award for hammiest performance of the year cornered, check out Emma Thompson's wicked witch of the South - it's a Scarlet O'Horror show.

 Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson. Written for the screen and directed by Richard LaGravenese. 124 minutes, rated M (supernatural themes, violence)

- © Fairfax NZ News

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