With The Twilight Saga coming to a close last year, Hollywood is in a mad scramble to find something, anything to fill that void. The dystopian Hunger Games is perhaps too violent and edgy to appeal to Twihards, while Warm Bodies's undead spin on the romantic comedy - though a box office hit - feels a little out of step with the world of Edward and Bella.
Beautiful Creatures, based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, takes a much more direct route into the fantasy romance world of Twilight. We get the shy, pretty girl, the handsome boy and the rural America setting, but in writer/director Richard LaGravenese's film the perspective switches.
It's Alden Ehrenreich's Ethan Wate who serves as the audience's eyes into this world of Casters (a person with magical abilities). The girl he falls for is Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a new starter who's hiding her magic powers. Lena lives with her uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) on the edge of town and, as her 16th birthday approaches, is faced with being claimed by either the light or dark side of magic. True love intervenes, however, and as Lena and Ethan find themselves drawn together danger emerges from her family's dark past.
Beautiful Creatures spins its tale with a little more self-aware humour than Twilight, and beyond that also casts an eye back into America's Deep South history. How often do you see a movie that's finale revolves around a Civil War re-enactment?
Ehrenreich and Englert make for an engagingly aloof screen couple, but head down the cast list and you'll find there's plenty of enjoyable scenery-chewing on show. Irons and Emma Thompson (as Mrs Lincoln, a local busy body who tries to get Lena expelled) are positively salivating over their juicy dialogue, while Emmy Rossum brings costume changes galore and a healthy dash of devil-may-care to her role as "dark" member of the Duchannes clan Ridley.
The film as a whole possesses the same kind of scrappy, ramshackle charm of Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight (still, in this reviewer's opinion, the best of that series). There are wonky CGI effects, rough-around-the-edges dialogue and moments of melodramatic soppyness, but none of it is enough to detract from the enjoyment. Beautiful Creatures's big problem is its overwhelming sense of familiarity; had this supernatural teen romance arrived five years ago it wouldn't have to worry about being in the shadow of Twilight.
Ultimately, this is a promising if unspectacular start to a potential Caster Chronicles film franchise. The novels have shifted more than 1.3 million copies, and the screen adaptation is going to need that loyal fanbase to translate those sales into box office numbers if it's going to fly as a franchise.