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If you peel away all the stuff that's supposed to be scary and mysterious in "Beautiful Creatures" - the hyped-up sound, ancient vine-covered mansion in the woods, wicked storms that brew instantly - you'll actually see a sweet love story and even a bit of social commentary.
At the outset, the film looks like it might end up somewhere between "Carrie" and "The Addams Family."
But because of some clever dialogue, on-screen chemistry and solid, though quirky, performances by acting stalwarts Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, we actually care about Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), a popular high school senior, as he falls for soon-to-be 16-year-old Lena (Alice Englert) in this supernatural story of secrets, love and evil.
A newcomer to a southern town, Lena arrives with more than the usual teenage baggage - she's a witch … really. She can break the windows in her classroom at will and start a rainstorm … only on her boyfriend, if she so desires.
Lena and her family - she lives with her uncle (Jeremy Irons) - are shunned by townsfolk because they are "casters," as in "casting spells." You can't blame them; the town has been under a terrible curse ever since the Civil War, and Lena's ancestors are to blame.
Despite all the terrible fates that befall its residents, no one seems to leave the town. As Ethan says at the opening "There are ones too stupid to leave and ones too stuck to move." He says the town keeps "re-enacting the Civil War as if it's going to change the outcome."
Maybe it's because the town has so much beauty and charm, which is captured in scenes of moss-covered trees and quaint old homes.
Though eccentric, Lena becomes the object of Ethan's affections, and the two begin a tender - though bizarre - relationship, as Ethan is sucked into the casters' vortex.
In one scene, Ethan stays for dinner with Lena's relatives. Lena and her cousin Ridley (Emily Rossum) get into an argument, and Ridley sends the table of seven guests into a furious whirl, which causes Ridley's mother to admonish, "Don't make me get up from this table!"
In another scene, the town's librarian, played by Viola Davis, describes the history of the casters. "Nancy Reagan made them move. She was the only mortal they were ever afraid of."
Despite Lena's wacky family, Ethan persists. "How am I going to survive a lifetime of you surprising me?"
But it's a race against time: In a matter of days Lena will be 16 and either turn good or evil, depending on what's in her heart. Ethan, of course, has no doubt she's good even when Lena tells him, "I'm afraid I'm going to hurt you. I mean kill you hurt you."
Lena's evil mother (Thompson), however, condemns Lena's "mortal" boyfriend and perseveres in her attempts to get her on her evil side.
Yet Lena holds the power to break the curse and turn to good forever.
But, as Lena's mother says, "Love is a spell."
As is the whole movie. Somehow, this town, its inhabitants and the star-crossed lovers cast a spell that engages until the surprising end.
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Top stories from the Lake Country area. Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings.
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