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If you want to attract a young audience with a love story these days, it seems you have to make the leading characters zombies or vampires or anything but the boy and girl next door. That’s the case with Beautiful Creatures, although I don’t see how that title applies to the film in question, about the forbidden relationship between a “normal” boy and a young witch. Director Richard LaGravenese has adapted the first novel in the series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl with an obvious eye on the Twilight audience. It’s not for me to predict if this strategy will pay off—that’s up to teenage girls, I suspect—but I found this Southern Gothic story to be long and dreary, after a promising start.

The movie takes place in a small, Bible-thumping South Carolina town where everybody knows everybody else’s business. Our hero, an iconoclast with a literary bent who’s supposed to be 15 years old (played by 22-year-old Alden Ehrenreich) falls in love with the new girl in town (Alice Englert), who’s staying with her notorious and reclusive uncle (Jeremy Irons) in his mansion, off the beaten path. She is indeed a witch—or “caster.” Both Irons and a family friend who’s a seer (Viola Davis) are concerned because when the girl turns 16 she will be claimed, either by the light or the dark side. Various family members are turning up to root for their interests.

Beautiful Creatures has enough exposition for two or three ordinary movies because without constant explanations it would be impossible to understand. (Even so, it requires concentration to follow along.)

I was willing to go on this journey but after a while I just stopped caring. Irons seems to be having fun with his juicy dialogue; Davis’ talents are wasted here. Emma Thompson adds some welcome spice as a small-town bigot whose body happens to be housing the spirit of Englert’s evil mother, but there’s only so much she can do to rescue this lumbering film.

Beautiful Creatures may read better on the printed page than it plays onscreen, but I’m not sufficiently intrigued to find out for myself.

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