When did boy meets girl get so complicated? Since boring Bella developed the hots for Edward, we’ve had girl-meets-vampire and girl-meets-zombie. This latest spin, based on a bestselling young adult novel, is boy-meets-witch. It’s a trashy Southern-fried ‘Twilight’, sticky and slathered in artificial-flavourings which leave you with a not-quite-right feeling.
Alice Englert (she’s director Jane Campion’s daughter) plays Lena, the pale and interesting new kid in a bible-loving Deep South town. The mean girls at school have got the knives out for Lena, whose creepy uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons) has a reputation locally for being a satanist. Which for once isn’t hicksville gossip. The family are witches (except we’re not supposed to call them that; they prefer the term caster).
There’s a decent twist here: on her sixteenth birthday Lena will be claimed by the good or the bad (it’s a caster thing). So was her ‘Carrie’ freakout in class down to regular teen-witch hormones? Or a telltale sign that Lena is going to the dark side? And yes, there’s a boy involved, Ethan, played by young Jack Nicholson lookalike Alden Ehrenreich.
You see what they’re doing here – wrapping teenage am-I-normal angst into a supernatural love story. ‘Twilight’ perfected that, but this isn’t in the same league. There are some funny lines. When uncle Macon asks Lena to play something on the piano she answers in a sarky voice: ‘No, this is not a Jane Austen novel.’ Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, both playing witches, ham it up outrageously as only Oscar winners can. But where ‘Twilight’ claimed teenagers’ (and ex teenagers’) hearts by playing it deadly serious with its sweet, adolescent earnestness, this is campy and overcooked, boringly piling on special effects.