Your Twilight alarm may be screaming at first glimpse of Beautiful Creatures, a supernatural romance between two teenagers-- one human, one immortal-- who long to be together, and express that longing in a lot of gorgeous natural locations while scored to modern pop music. And while the world of Beautiful Creatures is no less absurd than Twilight, filled with witches called "casters" and curses from the Civil War and an all-knowing Viola Davis, it possesses a crucial self-awareness to actually allow you to get in on the fun. It's not always easy to follow the rules of this new supernatural world, but by not getting caught up in the details and exploring the giggly thrill of teen romance, Beautiful Creatures is way more fun than your Twilight-weary soul might imagine.
It starts, surprisingly enough, with the two attractive young leads, both of whom commit to the high emotions of romance without forgetting that they're supposed to be, y'know, enjoying each others' company. Alden Ehrenreich slaps on a syrupy Southern accent to play Ethan Wate, a sweet-natured kid itching to escape his South Carolina hometown, but also stuck caring for his dad following his mother's death. He's drawn immediately to the new girl in town, Lena (Alice Englert), who's staying with her uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) in a run-down old mansion that everyone thinks is haunted (the connection between Macon and To Kill a Mockingbird's Boo Radley is stated early, one of many hints that Beautiful Creatures is smarter than it looks). Ethan pursues Lena not with smoldering glances but an easy smile and a willingness to look silly, and the imperious Lena eventually softens-- but not before revealing the family secrets that could keep them apart.
You see, Lena is a caster-- the terms for witch used in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's novels-- and on her approaching 16th birthday she will be "claimed" for either the dark or light side. In the chaotic group of supporting characters we see both the light side (Margo Martindale in an insane wig, mainly) and the dark (Emmy Rossum's vampy Cousin Ridley), and Lena's own dark caster mother Seraphine comes to town, possesses the body of the local Moral Majority snoop (Emma Thompson) and tries to meddle in Lena's life enough to make her dark transition a guarantee. On top of all that, there's also a curse left over from the Civil War that guarantees that Lena's love for a mortal will make her dark forever. Being 16 ain't easy, y'all.
When Thompson first appears as the schoolmarmish yokel she seems wildly out of place, but when she transforms into Seraphine with one delicious monologue delivered to Irons, she lights a rocket under the movie and delivers its purpose. Yes, all the Southern accents in this movie are awful. Yes, it's impossible to keep track of which caster is meddling with Lena in which way. Yes, there are moments where we peek into Lena's magical world and something completely nonsensical-- like a man with his entire body painted like clouds-- is presented as if we should understand it. But even when Beautiful Creatures is nonsense, it is stylish, captivating, gloriously enjoyable nonsense, with all of its performers well aware of what they're given. Director Richard LaGravanese, seemingly grateful to have assembled this kind of cast, lets his actors cut loose, but all are smart enough not to turn it into a joke. You'll find yourself believing in it all despite yourself; like the Civil War re-enactments featured in the final action scene, it all looks insane on the surface, but has a mighty power to suck you in.
Englert, with her moody eyes and powerful charisma, is an obvious star in the making, but Ehrenreich matches her not in sex appeal, but boy-next-door relatability-- the two of them alone are worth a sequel to dip back into this loony-tunes world. As a South Carolinian I think I finally understand what it's been like for Louisianans to watch True Blood all these years, seeing their culture transformed into something howling and maybe even offensive. I also can't wait to see it happen again.