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Review: ‘Beautiful Creatures’ treads a well-worn supernatural path

Beautiful Creatures threatens to be a reverse-gendered Twilight, with a mortal teenager, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who gets involved with a mysterious girl (Alice Englert) new to the local high school. The film is also based on a successful 2009 young adult novel, arousing suspicions that both book and film were calculated to tap into the demographic desperate for the next Bella-and-Edward fix. The pressure is on director Richard LaGravanese (The Fisher King, P.S. I Love You) to deliver something distinct, even if Beautiful Creatures treads a well-worn supernatural path.

Setting the story in the South with a protagonist who dreams about a dark-haired, Civil War-era belle helps. Ethan, a Kirk Vonnegut-reading student applying for colleges far from his small South Carolina town, sees what appears to be a manifestation of his dream girl one day in class. Lena is immediately and publicly ostracized by Ethan’s ex and her best friend, drawing a Carrie-like telekinetic response from Lena once she’s pushed to the boiling point. That ends the abuse, but Ethan is transfixed and follows her home to the grounds of Ravenwood manor, where her uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons) toys with the boy at first before accepting him as a suitable companion for Lena — sort of.

Things start off well-enough, with a deep-blue overcast sky foreshadowing ominous events to follow (and the hair color of several cast members) as Ehrenreich charismatically channels Jack Nicholson’s grin and drawl from Easy Rider. Sharp banter and Southern gothic atmosphere mark the early stages of the film, and Emma Thompson steals the show as a deceptively conservative church lady. But things fall flat halfway through after Emmy Rossum shows up as a wild and wayward Ravenwood family member, and a confusing ritual Lena must endure mires the momentum.