Please stop with the Twilight comparisons! comes the plaintive cry from online, anticipating reviews of the film Beautiful Creatures.
Well, sorry I cant.
Not when its about two characters who meet in a small-town high school, one a motherless bookworm and the other an immortal whose family discourages contact with humans. Not when a force of darkness contends for the immortals soul, or when a seductively murderous relative comes to town to wreak havoc outside the family. Not when the plot hinges on one teens willingness to sacrifice happiness to protect the other from destruction.
Sure, theres a reversal of sexes: The boy has the normal life span, and the girl belongs to a clan of casters (a term she prefers to witches). The town is in Lowcountry South Carolina, not Washington state. Creatures has a sense of humor about itself that Twilight (which I slightly prefer as a movie) did not.
But the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl came out in fall 2009, when the first Twilight movie was a massive hit, and the Twilight novels were omnipresent. So draw your own conclusions.
Whether or not you think of this as a knockoff, it has a ripeness Twilight never did.
Emma Thompson, who plays a down-on-her-knees church lady and the sneering sorcerer who takes over her body, whoopingly gives reign to craziness in both roles. Jeremy Irons, happy to be cast for once as a good guy, stays at his highest level of menacing drollery. (I always enjoy this kind of casting against type.)
The young people, played by quietly seething Alice Englert and the vibrant Alden Ehrenreich, keep us focused on what matters: Love will, or wont, conquer all. Add Viola Davis as a librarian in charge of dark secrets, and you have a cast whose depth of expression trumps all competitors in the field Ive seen to date.
Philippe Rousselot, the cinematographer who brought some of Tim Burtons memorable visions to life (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), saturates the screen with intense hues: Color trumps special effects here, though those are fine, too.
This is all fortunate, as the narrative train frequently stops at the town of Cliché Viejo and sometimes goes off the rails altogether for a bit.
Writer-director Richard LaGravenese introduces characters and loses track of them, builds toward a mildly daring ending and backs cravenly away from it, even seems to contradict himself: On the girls 16th birthday, shell end up on the light or dark side of casting, and she wont have a choice in the matter errrr unless she does. (Shes the first witch in millennia who may decide for herself? Why would that be?)
The movie takes place in some invented Southern corner of Hollywood, where citizens equate Democrat and Satanist. The high school history teacher forces pupils to take part in Civil War re-enactments to pass his class, but To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned from the English curriculum. (Yet this virtually all-white town was enlightened enough to elect a black man as its mayor.)
Characters that grew up there have different accents and use yall when theyre talking to one person. Id have assumed LaGravenese never came to the South, but the film was shot almost entirely in Louisiana. That gets my dander up: If somebodys going to dump scorn on the Palmetto State, South Carolina ought to profit by it!