A boy meets a girl, and they’re “different” from each other, but they don’t let that get in the way of romance. OK, stop thinking about “Twilight” or the much more recent “Warm Bodies.” This new one, like its predecessors, based on a novel, may sound similar, but it comes from and goes off into many other directions. It’s certainly the most properly supernatural of the bunch.
When we meet 17-year-old South Carolinian Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), we find out right away that he’s a voracious reader (Vonnegut’s his current choice), is kind of a loner, and is being brought up by his dad.
He’s also having some pretty weird dreams about a girl whose face he can’t quite see.
Hold on, there’s a new girl in town and at school, 15-year-old orphan Lena (Alice Englert), come to live with her wealthy and very mysterious Uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons) at the creepy old Ravenwood place. She, too, loves to read (Bukowski’s her present fave).
Could she be the “girl of his dreams?” There’s nothing like love at first sight between them. He shows some interest, likely because everyone else in town bores him, but she feigns total disinterest, as if she isn’t supposed to mingle with anyone. After a classroom display of “Carrie”-like abilities by her, which she never acknowledges, his fascination increases. He even follows her home, only to be told to go away because “my uncle doesn’t like people around the house.”
Actually, no one in the Ravenwood family likes people very much, at least not “normal” people like Ethan, and everyone else in town. The appearance of Uncle Macon allows Irons to start chewing the scenery early. He’s a dashing figure in white, delivering his lines in a honey-like voice, ever ready to put a spell – or foist visions – upon an unwary visitor.
There are lots of spells cast on lots of people in this little Southern town. And while the story is mostly about the slowly forming attraction between Ethan and Lena, the parade of characters around them gives the film an undeniable richness. Viola Davis plays Amma, local librarian and longtime friend of Ethan’s family (separate characters in the book), a woman with plenty of her own secrets. Watch out for Emmy Rossum (currently in Showtime’s “Shameless”) as Ridley, a sorceress who likes to have her way with unsuspecting men. But the film’s best scene-stealing goes to the always surprising Emma Thompson, taking on two roles: the Bible-thumping Mrs. Lincoln, and the fearsome and extremely powerful Sarafine.
Thompson manages to make her parts both frightening and over-the-top hilarious.
The plot ends up gravitating toward the always popular battle between the light and the dark, as well as the old Shakespearian chestnut of forbidden love, in this case between a Caster (Lena’s fate) and a mortal. Between plentiful doses of creepiness, visual effects, a (literally) swirling sequence about family dynamics, and a quick dip into melodrama, this is a film that will please the young viewers it’s aimed at, and still keep older audiences who couldn’t handle the ridiculousness of the “Twilight” series happily engaged.
Page 2 of 2 - Ed Symkus covers movies for GateHouse Media.
Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese
With Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson