The path of teenage love is strewn with supernatural complications in this fabulous slice of modern Gothic. When the mysterious Lena (Alice Englert) comes to the god-fearing town of Gatlin, her family's association with witchcraft makes her an instant pariah. Only her classmate Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) doesn't care - even when she turns out to be a 'caster', who will ultimately serve the forces of either Light or Dark. But which, she doesn't know. Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Viola Davis and Emmy Rossum join the engaging leads to ensure the witty script and eye-catching design come with performances to match.
The shadow of Twilight looms large over this potential franchise starter.
Happily, it emerges sharper, funnier and - to the impartial eye at least - a sight more engaging than the po-faced young adultery of Stephenie Meyers.
Much credit for that must go to writer-director Richard LaGravenese, whose adaptation of the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is his best work since his Oscar-nominated screenplay for 1991's The Fisher King.
It's the star-crossed story of Ethan (relative unknown Alden Ehrenreich), a high schooler who can't wait to escape his ultra-conservative Carolina hometown of Gatlin, and Lena Duchannes (Englert), the niece of Gatlin's richest and most distrusted citizen Macon Ravenwood (Irons).
From his self-effacing wit, the books he reads (Slaughterhouse Five, A Clockwork Orange, Catcher In The Rye), and the barely concealed disdain he shows to his bubblehead ex, it's clear that Ethan is cool.
From her mystique, pithy retorts and the way she can make windows implode when she's upset, it's also clear that Lena has more about her than Twilit moochbag Bella. Think the missing link between Juno and Carrie.
Turns out Lena is a 'Caster' ('witch' has such a negative vibe) and on her 16th birthday she will become an agent for the forces of Light or Dark, depending on her true nature. This is called 'The Claiming' and she has no choice in the matter. It's her destiny.
Strangely, the Light contingent is poorly represented here. Unless you count Macon who was born Dark but acts Light, which kind of flies in the face of the "no-choice" thing but what the hey, he's fun.
There's also town librarian Amma (Viola Davis), who's looked after Ethan since his mum died. But as a seer, she's restricted to basic secret-keeping and occasional voodoo .
The Dark side, however, has two lusty advocates in Macon's evil sister Sarafine (Emma Thompson, who combines this with a second role as the town's hardest Bible thumper to serve up two slices of Southern-baked ham) and her wayward daughter Ridley (Rossum), a naughty siren who leads all the boys astray - often fatally.
However, things get really complicated whenever a Caster falls in love with a Mortal. Thankfully, LaGravenese links up the supernatural chicanery via the easy-to-follow devices of a recurring dream, a locket and a curse, all dating back to the Civil War.
Needless to say, it would be better for all concerned - and the world in general - if Lena and Ethan stayed away from each other. Like that's going to happen.
It all comes down to a contest between natural powers like love and faith and supernatural powers, like controlling the weather and making your eyes go fiery orange.
Who knew that emo could be this much fun? From the banter to the Burtonesque production values and swirling effects, Beautiful Creatures leaves Twilight in the shade.