Film Review: Magic and substance make ‘Creatures’ compelling

Film Review: Magic and substance make ‘Creatures’ compelling
Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert star in the supernatural love story “Beautiful Creatures.” Photo by John Bramley

Heartfelt, enthralling, and wry, “Beautiful Creatures” doesn’t break new ground for its genre, but the cast performances and Southern Gothic vibe are instilled with an earnest magic that moviegoers of both sexes will find interesting and enjoyable.As plentiful as teen supernatural romance stories are, it’s hard not to notice their languid, humdrum existence. I’m sure nobody wants to remember how much “Twilight” sucked the life out of audiences, and it’s a shame that TV shows such as “The Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood” have long since lost their sense of direction.

But if you think “Beautiful Creatures” is fated to meet the same miserable outcome, prepare to be surprised, and in a good way.

All Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) has ever wanted in his life was to escape the dead-end town of Gatlin, S.C. When newcomer Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) enrolls at his school, she quickly catches Ethan’s attention. He gets more than he bargained for after Lena reveals herself to be a Caster, whose powers have kept people at arm’s length until now. The budding romance between Ethan and Lena is threatened by a curse surrounding the latter’s family tree. To make matters worse, Lena is to undergo the Claiming upon her sixteenth birthday, a process that will decide whether she is to join the light side or the dark side.

I’ve never read Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s book, so you might want to direct your page-versus-screen questions to a more qualified person. However, I will say this: those who aren’t familiar with the source material will nonetheless be impressed with what director Richard LaGravenese did in order to breathe life into this supernatural love story.

The world of “Beautiful Creatures” is so intoxicating that you’ll never want to stop learning about Gatlin’s history. Every location — high school, church, Ravenwood Manor, the Caster library, cemetery, Civil War reenactment hillsides — is infused with an equal measure of idyllic and foreboding, capable of being serene and sinister at the right moments.

Another nod of approval goes to the exquisite costume design, where the Deep South fashion rules supreme. Whether you’re looking at Jeremy Irons’ elegant suits or Emmy Rossum’s provocative dresses or Emma Thompson’s conservative wardrobe, no attire seems out of place in regards to their respective characters.

LaGravenese avoids the easy path of allowing CGI to take precedence and employing practical effects to create the Casters’ magical powers. The shattering of classroom windows and spinning Caster holiday dinner face-off exemplify his preferred approach to concocting the film’s fantastical side. While there are a couple CG shots — particularly whenever Lena uses her elemental abilities — the magic is, for the most part, something we can feel happening around us.

What is even more impressive than the magic is the amount of care taken to give the characters purpose. I can tell LaGravenese was passionate about adapting this novel to the big screen, and the same goes to his cast members, especially Ehrenreich and Englert.

Speaking of which, Alden Ehrenreich delivers a brilliant performance as Ethan, putting his heart and soul into embodying the male lead’s droll humor and strong sense of commitment, and if anyone has the best lines, it’s him. Alice Englert matches her co-star at every turn with Lena’s intense love for him and fearful insecurity regarding her fate. I liked how her character wasn’t defined by her powers, plus the fact that her reasons for being introverted are legitimate, and above all, relatable.

Jeremy Irons does a commendable job of channeling Gregory Peck of “To Kill a Mockingbird” to exert his parental authority in order to protect Englert’s character from the dark side. Viola Davis exudes a wise and warm personality that goes well with Amma’s role as Ethan’s caretaker and mother figure. There is no shortage of shameless daring in Emmy Rossum’s portrayal of Ridley Duchannes, who electrifies the screen with an irresistible penchant for mischievous flirting.

Emma Thompson proves to be a formidable antagonist and enjoys every opportunity she gets to display her wicked side.

Do we have the power to choose our destinies and not be bound by fate? As demonstrated in “Beautiful Creatures,” the answer is yes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material
Running time: 2 hours 4 minutes
Playing: General release

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