“Beautiful Creatures” might look superficially similar to a recent series of books and films about vampires and werewolves in love, but thanks to a strong cast and an actual sense of humor, Richard LaGravenese's Southern Gothic take on the supernatural young adult genre is brighter than “Twilight.”
Based on the first installment of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's four-book series, “Beautiful Creatures” centers on the unwelcome arrival of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) at Gatlin High School in South Carolina. Lena is the youngest of the Ravenwood clan, one of the founding families of the town, but the Ravenwoods' reputation is a little on the dark side. The more judgmental town leaders in Gatlin, particularly the uptight and uppity Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson), have long labeled the Ravenwoods as Satanists, but they are mostly benign practitioners of witchcraft — or “casters.”
This public relations problem is not helped by the eccentric manner of patriarch Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), who prefers to lurk in the family's antebellum mansion and perform spontaneous, magical redecorations of the home's front parlor to suit his mood, or the fact that teenage Ravenwood girls have about a 50/50 chance at becoming hopelessly evil on their 16th birthdays. Lena seems resigned to being an outcast until the smart and wry Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) takes an interest in her. They both love great, subversive literature, but while Ethan only has to wrestle with which college to attend, Lena is confronting whether she will become a total scourge, an evil seductive caster like her cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum of “Shameless”).
Across the board, “Beautiful Creatures” is helped considerably by the strength of its cast, particularly Thompson, whose Mrs. Lincoln undergoes a significant personality transplant, and Viola Davis as Ethan's guardian and curator of the town's secret history. The film meanders a little too much in its second act and could use some judicious trimming, but Ehrenreich and Englert's chemistry, LaGravenese's visual acuity and the considerable talent in the supporting ranks help “Beautiful Creatures” overcome its storytelling problems and cast a surprisingly enjoyable spell.
— George Lang