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Originally published Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 5:30 AM

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‘Beautiful Creatures’: a topsy-turvy take on the supernatural

In “Beautiful Creatures,” Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert have a chemistry that elevates it above the average teenage supernatural tale.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 2.5 stars

“Beautiful Creatures,” with Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson. Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. 124 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material. Several theaters.

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“Beautiful Creatures” is a sort of topsy-turvy “Twilight”: the boy’s a mortal; the girl’s a witch (or, in this franchise’s parlance, a “Caster”); the setting is the sunny South, thus treating us to such observations as “She looks like Death eatin’ a cracker”; and the main characters actually smile at each other on occasion instead of looking perpetually pained. Is it a great movie? No, but it’s a movie in which Emma Thompson, as a character I cannot begin to describe, says “Well, slap my ass and call me Sally,” and that alone vaults it above most teenage fare.

Our sometimes-happy couple here is high-school junior Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who lives in the kind of conservative small town where there are “more banned books than books to read.” He’s a sardonic, likable kid who’s lonely — his mother has died recently, his father has become withdrawn — and he’s drawn to the new girl in town, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert). Lena lives with her uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons, looking like a fragile rock star) in a crumbling local mansion equipped with a living room that looks like a set for a minimalist “Don Giovanni.” (Nobody sings in this movie, but you keep thinking they might.) She’s a moody girl with an uncanny ability to break windows and control the weather (in a different franchise, she’d be an X-man), and as Lena and Ethan grow closer, she confides to him that she’s almost 16, at which age she will be “claimed,” as are all Casters, by the forces of Dark or Light. Just the usual teenage problems.

Adapted and directed by Richard LaGravenese from the popular book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, “Beautiful Creatures” begins as a comedy and eventually becomes a sort of wildly over-the-top coming-of-age supernatural thriller, in which tables spin and mysterious underground libraries are discovered and Emmy Rossum, as a wickedly grinning Dark Caster, saunters in wearing a dress that can only be described as Stevie-Nicks-goes-to-a-dominatrix-convention. (Kudos to costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, whose fanciful creations make many of the scenes look like Vogue spreads.) Things whirl out of control in the final third — I confess I lost track at one point of exactly what was happening to whom — but one element remained constant: the charming performances of Ehrenreich and Englert, who demonstrated a funny, believable chemistry. You want this star-crossed couple to stick together, come what may — and that’s rare enough at the movies.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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