While this package has all of the key marketing elements to reach the Twilight audience, the film itself is rather a lot more fun, made with some wit and intelligence, plus a cast that's happy to chomp on the scenery. Based on a four-novel series, this film actually has more in common with True Blood than Twilight, with its Deep South setting and the clash between religious fundamentalism and supernatural beings.
At the centre is Ethan (Ehrehreich), a 16-year-old who is bristling against the isolation of his small South Carolina town. His recently deceased mother instilled in him a love of books banned by the town's hyper-religious leaders, and the local librarian Amma (Davis) helps keep his interest alive. As a result, he's more open than the other teens when Lena (Englert) arrives at school. But she's shunned because her Uncle Macon (Irons) is the town's pariah, a landowner whom everyone thinks is a devil worshipper. Actually, the whole family are casters, people with special powers that are designated good or evil on their 16th birthday.
The plot stirs up some suspense as Lena's big day of reckoning approaches. She's terrified that she'll go over to the dark side like her man-eating cousin (Rossum) or, worse still, her spectral mother, who does her mischief by inhabiting the body of the town's most pious housewife Mrs Lincoln (Thompson). This of course gives Thompson two insane characters to play at the same time, and she has a ball with it. As does Irons with the shadowy, snaky Macon. And at the centre, Ehrenreich and Englert both show considerable promise, with their strikingly non-Hollywood good looks and a depth of character that makes the film more engaging than we expect.
Yes, it's still a very silly story assembled from every teen-romance cliche imaginable, but writer-director LaGravenese keeps things visually interesting, focussing on the lush isolation of the town and never letting the special effects overpower the characters (although one dizzying dinner comes close). But unlike Twilight, this film has a refreshing sense of humour about itself that makes up for the plot's underdeveloped themes (why are some people simply told that they're "evil"?). And this is also the rare teen movie in which the kids are realistically lusty. They're also interested in serious literature, and any young people turned on to Vonnegut or Bukowski as a result of this film might find their world opening up as well.
Genre: Sci fi/Fantasy
Run time: 124 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 14th February 2013
Box Office USA: $19.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $60.1M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Alcon Entertainment, Belle Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 46%
Fresh: 78 Rotten: 92
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Screenwriter: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Emmy Rossum as Ridley Duchaness, Jeremy Irons as Macon Ravenwood, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lincoln, Viola Davis as Amma, Kyle Gallner as Larkin Ravenwood, Alice Englert as Lena Duchannes, Thomas Mann as Link, Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate, Margo Martindale as Aunt Del, Zoey Deutch as Emily Asher, Rachel Brosnahan as Genevieve Duchannes