Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate and Alice Englert as Lena Duchannes in Beautiful Creatures.
Beautiful Creatures, starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, and Emmy Rossum. Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese. Based on a book series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. 122 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Yet another cavalierly abstinent teen hero sulks through the swamps of Beautiful Creatures, a shot of pop-goth hogwash so overheated that during its run theater owners could set aside a couple of aisles and cultivate Louisiana passionflower. Here witch Lena (Alice Englert) is urged by her family to spurn the love of nonmagical local boy Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) to protect him from the usual forces of darkness. The new wrinkle: She is staring down her imminent 16th birthday, which in the daft mythology worked out by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, whose books all this is based on, is the time of "claiming" when a female "caster" like herself discovers whether the forces of the universe have willed her to serve "light" or "dark." (Even in an abstinence fantasy, that's surprisingly conservative — that women possessed of extraordinary gifts have a 50/50 shot of being factory-set for evil.) Primness aside, the movie is terrific fun. Savor the candied gloom. The story is overstuffed with curses, dream visions, spell-driven freakouts, voodoo nonsense, Confederate ghosts, religious crazies, secret societies, extended witch family, and testaments to the power of reading. A Southern sheriff runs his cruiser off the road, as all in movies must; the third act turns on a library research project spanning months, which is unusual in movies with police car crashes. Director Richard LaGravenese, who also adapted the novel, lavishes the material with greater wit than its demographic demands, and the central love story feels warm-blooded — the air prickles between the leads.