BY EMILY GAGNE, THE TWENTYSOMETHING WANNABE WITCH
There’s a large part of me that has always longed to live out my best years sitting on a South Carolina porch, sipping on sweet tea ’til the sun goes down and the fireflies light up the bayou like miniature ghosts. (A Southern Georgia porch would do just fine too, especially if some spry old gal like Idgie Thredgood was there to be my bee keeper BFF.) I’m sure I’m slightly fetishizing the sassy, swampy vibe of the Southern states, but there’s just something spooky magical about it all in my mind — the oversized, abandoned-looking homes that could have belonged to some terribly corrupt ancestors; the sweeping weepy willows casting shadows even in the mid-afternoon; the croc and who-knows-what-else-filled swamps; and the decrepit-beautiful graveyards that surely host simmering dark secrets.
There’s also a significant part of me that has always wanted to be a seventh generation Spellman, or rather, a “teenage witch.” To celebrate my Sweet 16 on an especially powerful note, coming into my mythical abilities for the first, scary-exciting time. To finally understand why there’s something special innately special and weird about me and my family. To have the birthright to rock floor-sweeping black dresses and kohl-smeared peepers in the middle of summer.
Beautiful Creatures, the new Southern gothic teen romance from writer-director Richard LaGravenese (Water for Elephants, P.S. I Love You), is the first film I think I’ve come across that has thrown both these not-so-secret dreams into a gumbo pot and let their obviously lending flavours get to know each other. And, if I do declare, the mix goes down good. Real damn good.
Since I’m already drawing on the slightly-true foodie stereotypes of the setting — Gatlin, South Carolina, y’all! — featured in the film and the book series that inspired it (Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Caster Chronicles), I’m going to liken this already underrated flick to a batch of hot, homemade corn bread that’s been dipped in a just-spicy-enough batch of gumbo. It’s surely sweet, as it follows the budding, steamy affair between banned book-obsessed mortal boy Ethan Wate (unknown — for now anyway — Alden Ehrenreich) and town newcomer and soon-to-be caster (a.k.a witch) Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert, Ginger & Rosa). But it’s also got a certain undeniable sauciness to it that no other relatively recent YA films can dare to claim (no, not even our beloved, decidedly feminist Hunger Games) and future ones should aspire to.
Beautiful Creatures’ dialogue is peppered with offbeat pop culture references (Ethan “ruins” the end to Titanic in a charming small talk attempt following a rainy car accident) and noted Southern sass (Ethan was so quick-lipped, I was near-convinced he was going to start twanging a cover of the Owens sisters-inspired hit, “Witch, witch, you’re a bitch!”) . The plot is salted with nicely overdone chosen family hysterics (Lena’s at the risk of going “dark” when she officially becomes a witch on her 16th birthday, as she is under the influence of her eccentric aunt and cousin) and lady wizard empowerment. And the strangely high-profile supporting cast — Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum, Margo Martindale and Viola Davis! — piles on the legitimate, supernaturally-tinged spice. Add in a pinch of corniness-cutting self-awareness (think Ethan admitting that telling Lena he’s dreamed about her weeks was slightly creepy), a touch of costumed camp (see: the brilliant three piece brocade suits Irons OWNS) and a drop of dreamboat (this Ehrenreich kid warrants a paper fan, or fifteen), and this somewhat cynical teen film and book fan/wannabe closeted Carolina caster was practically left licking her Civil War commemorative plate. (Did I mention that the climax is centred on a Civil War reenactment/Lena’s witchy batmitzvah?!)
Pass the YA movie sweet tea, will you? It’s been purposefully spiked and I’ll be damned if I say I don’t want as many similarly-tasting helpings as humanly (or witch bitchily) possible.