Review : Beautiful Creatures (2013)
"Dark secrets will come to light"
Released (UK) 13th February 2013, Rated 12A. Runtime: 124 minutes (2 hours, 4 minutes).
Official Synopsis: Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.
Blue Corner Review, by Pete
Added February 16th, 2013
Initial appearances from the trailers screamed ‘Twilight with southern witches’ – and I’m quite sure that was entirely intentional in a hope of picking up Twilight fans feeling bereft now that the series is done – so to say that there was an element of dread when this was selected would be something of an understatement. Thankfully, Kirsten ‘I’d rather be set on fire than smile’ Stewart wasn’t in the cast, so I figured it couldn’t be quite as bad.
Based on the first of four novels in the ‘Caster Chronicles’ by co-authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Richard LaGravenese has both adapted and directed this tale revolving around magical beings known as Casters, locked in a seemingly perennial struggle between ‘light’ and ‘dark’. Set in Gaitlin, South Carolina, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) is the new-girl in this sleepy town, instantly subjected to rumour and scaremongering by the self-righteous inhabitants given that she is the niece of infamous affluent town recluse Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) – the man who, in addition to being town patron, is purported to worship demons. In a devoutly Christian town where the banning of ‘ungodly’ books is still seen as the way to protect the inhabitants, that’s about as bad as it gets.
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is the inevitable teen love interest, becoming both instantly intrigued and smitten with the (literal) girl of his dreams the moment Lena starts at her latest of what is apparently a long line of schools – each of the previous establishments having experienced a range of strange occurrences around the time of her departure. Despite his initial advances showing that he’s not yet another backwards naysayer, Lena rebukes his romantic alludes leading him to show up in person to the much vaunted Ravenwood mansion – it seems he is the one person not scared of the stories told about her uncle.
After some faffing around the maundering middle third moves from revealing the supernatural Casters to both creating and bringing down the budding romance between Lena and Ethan, with this apparently being for her own good in a bid to ensure that she will keep on the ‘light’ path come her 16th birthday – the date when all Casters learn their fate and be permanently claimed for one of the two sides, but this apparently being even more important this time around due to a curse on the Duchannes family. Assisting Macon with his efforts are resident mystical librarian Amma (Viola Davis) and Gramma (Eileen Atkins), whilst the cheerleading for the dark path comes in the forms of ‘bad’ cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) and ‘badder still’ mother Sarafine (Emma Thompson, possessing the body of the most religious woman in town for extra effect). As time moves on it becomes clear to Macon that, despite his original beliefs, Ethan is now responsible for the path his niece will take, allowing the two to reconcile and work with Amma in an effort to break the family curse once and for all.
Whilst the marketing side of things likely attracted a few avid Twilight fans, I can’t help but think that it also probably put of those that aren’t, so it was a fairly brave gamble. Yes, our two star-crossed angsty ‘teen’ (both actually mid-twenty) protagonists create a pairing consisting of one mortal and one supernatural being, and yes, the inevitable obstacles in their path are played up to maximum effect to create reasons why they can’t be together, but really that should have been the extent of the similarities – the ‘gothic southern’ look was something I found quite novel (reminding me of the 90’s TV series American Gothic), whilst there actually looked to be a reasonably interesting backstory hidden somewhere beyond the teeny gushing, even if it doesn’t really get the chance to get going (having not read the books, this might well the focus of the later three outings, if not be more fleshed out in the first). As odd as it might sound, both characters felt stranger and quirkier (each in a good way) than the tween heartthrobs that seem to get served up – I just wish that the focus of this movie had been the Casters in general, rather than the melodramatic love story between the lead duo, although keeping in mind the target audience I can sadly understand why that wasn’t the case. Whilst the duo appeared to lack any real chemistry, on the plus side both the characters and their respective actors were infinitely more endearing and engaging than the Pattinson/Stewart combo – not that this was that difficult to achieve.
As Amma, Viola Davis seems massively wasted, getting very little in the way of noteworthy screen time despite the potential of her character. Irons and Thompson appear to have taken their respective roles simply to see who can ham things up the most on screen, although that’s not to say that either felt unduly misplaced or even excessively over-the-top. Akin to the problems with the backstory being more interesting than the main plot, for all the talk of Macon and Seraphine being two of the most powerful Casters to have existed, and with this supposedly being a pivotal point in the apparently epic battle between dark and light, neither really do anything particular incredible during the film that suggests that the myths – if not legends – surrounding them are actually true. A shame, given that the initial meeting between the two in a church promised far more. Perhaps this was a budgetary consideration rather than a creative decision but, much like the film itself, it left this part feeling somewhat anti-climatic.
Strangely ironic that for a film containing two leads with a love of banned creative fiction considered to be masterpieces, this is fundamentally an unconvincing and heavy handed love and sacrifice tale that is almost instantly forgettable. With the more interesting backstory and mythology being put on the backburner to focus on the mutterings of Ethan and Lena, this rendered many of the better elements as being relatively superfluous to the overall plot, only serving to make the film that the director (or producers) actually wanted to put out – a teen love story – feeling disjointed and off-balance, albeit with a superior ending to the one I envisaged. Certainly the final scene inevitably still allowed scope for a sequel, but at least the story was self-contained enough to prevent it from feeling simply part one of several parts.