The Twilight franchise demonstrated that the occult provides a powerful metaphor for the social ostracization and estranged hearts of American youth. Beautiful Creatures substitutes witches for vampires, and wraps the love story of its two fetching teenage leads, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) and Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), into a backstory of generational conflict featuring Civil War romance, familial conflict, a pining for immortality, and Southern Gothic style.
Ethan is a charming, witty orphan (his parents died in a car crash) who’s obsessed with getting out of his small southern town. When Lena arrives as a transfer student in their junior year of high school, he finds himself attracted to the cute misfit loner. The girl is rumored to be a bit voodoo, and the prissy popular girls in their class torment her with accusations of satanic debauchery. It’s Christian bullying, delivered in grating drawl, but it isn’t inaccurate. As Ethan soon discovers, Lena’s uncle is a centuries-old witch (pardon, they are called “Casters” in Beautiful Creatures – “witch” is a derogatory term), and he uses his magic powers to push Ethan away from their niece. As it turns out, Lena is nearly sixteen, and according to the rules of Casterism, at sixteen some strange, moon-driven power decides whether or not you’ll be, as Glenda would say, a good witch or a wicked witch.
It’s a rather hokey metaphor for those firing adolescent hormones that are the real engine fuel firing Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s young adult novel. Beautiful Creatures is another teenage soap, schmoopy and swooning, that substitutes the inane and invented paradigms of witch code for the social mores that govern the adult brand of turbulent, romantic schlock. But this film isn’t for the adults, and I imagine its Southern style, its sleek and shiny cinematography paired with some Gone With the Wind, Southern baroque scenery — not to mention some legitimate moments of wit — will speak to the hearts of the high school girls who spent their middle school years pretending they were fairies. The basic nugget of what is here, after all, is both honest and entirely digestible: young, defiant love standing up against familial and social pressures. And the film ends on a note of sacrifice, a realization that “true love” desires the other’s best interest, even if it means stifling one’s own desires. It’s all good material if you are a fan of feeding our children trivial didacticism in the form of one-dimensional melodrama.