A film review by Craig J. Koban July 24, 2013
2013, PG-13, 124 mins.
2013, PG-13, 124 mins.
Alice Englert as Lena / Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan / Emma Thompson as Sarafine / Viola Davis as Amma / Emily Rossum as Ridley / Jeremy Irons as Macon
Written and directed by Richard Lagravenese, based on the book by the same name by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Criticizing BEAUTIFUL CREATURES for being a TWILIGHT-inspired knock-off is almost kind of redundant…as it doesn’t really hide that fact at all.
Based on the
2009 young adult novel of the same name – the first book in the "Caster
Chronicles" – by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the film lacks a
lingering sense of intrigue not because of its resemblance to its more
famous werewolves and vampires cinematic cousin, but more because
it’s kind of a plodding and middling example of the youth romance
fantasy melodrama. The
film’s South Carolina setting is certainly a chief asset, as is
the film’s stylish direction and the performances by most members of the
cast seem more uniformly good than what was on-screen in the TWILIGHT
films. Nonetheless, I frankly
found myself rarely engaged with the underlining material here, which
never really euphorically takes off like it wants to.
to TWILIGHT are painfully inevitable, but BEAUTIFUL CREATURES at least has some
tangible differences from that sparkling Nosferatu tale.
Both films are supernatural at their inherent cores, but in
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES the sexes of the mortal and not-so-mortal characters
are inversed. In its case, the female is the one baring supernatural gifts
and the male is the ordinary human that falls in love. The young man in question is Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), a
southern lad stuck in the middle of proverbial nowhere in Gatlin, South Carolina.
Yup, he’s like just about every other teen on the planet – he
immerses himself in classic literary works of the 20th
Century, like Vonnegut and Salinger.
As is the case in all teen-centric romances, Ethan - down-on-his-luck
in love - manages to fall head-over-heels at relative first sight with Lena
Duchannes (Alice Englert, daughter of director Jane Champion) as she
enters his class one day. Actually,
he has also been seeing her in his dreams beforehand as well.
course, the town is filled with a whole lot of religious nutjobs, all of
whom seem to have their deepest suspicions that Lena and the entire Duchannes
family are all in league with the devil.
They may have a point, seeing as Lena and her kind are
witches…actually…make that “castors” (basically witches), which are
capable of, yup, casting spells, controlling weaker willed people,
controlling the weather, and so on. It’s
revealed that Lena, when she turns sweet sixteen, will go through a right of passage process that will either have her become a dark or good witch,
but Ethan seems to be determined to have her be a good witch.
Of course, as the pair begin to fall in love, their relationship
gets very complicated by the presence of a Lena’s momma, a dark castor
named Sarafine (Emma Thompson) and her ultra-sensuous and twisted cousin,
Ridley (Emmy Rossum). Hmmm…I
wonder if Lena’s castor Uncle Malcolm (Jeremy Irons) will prevent her
from going rogue? Or, will
Lena’s mother and cousin convince her to embrace the inevitability of a
dark turn? And, for that matter, how does the Civil War fit in to all of
this? Well…it does.
is certainly talent behind the camera here in BEAUTIFUL CREATURES.
The film was written and directed by Richard LaGravense, who
previously was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for THE FISHER
KING. He gives the film an
attractively lush and immersive look and feel that helps separate itself
from other TWILIGHT posers. Then there is the inclusion of heavyweight Oscar winning
acting titans like Thompson and Irons that, to be fair, do their very best
to ham it up with some wickedly over-the-top Southern accents (they
both seem to be acknowledging and winking to the audience that the film
that they are parading around in is indeed pretty silly).
Sometimes, it’s more appealing to have master thespians like them
engage in purposely modulated high camp than to play their roles as
seriously as heart attacks, which consequently assists the film with not,
in turn, taking itself to solemnly.
younger stars fare fine as well. Ehrenreich
and Englert seem to have a nice, understated rapport and chemistry
on-screen that has a bit more nuance and subtlety than what occurred
between Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.
Emmy Rossum proves to be an effective foil to them, playing a
sensual creature of foul ill will (she takes a page out of Thompson’s
and Irons’ playbook by simply losing herself in her performance amidst
the film’s chaos and lunacy). BEAUTIFUL
CREATURES, if anything, seems to have some thanklessly decent performances
for the type of film it is, not to mention that it has a better sense of
tongue-in-cheek slyness with the underlining material than the TWILIGHT
films ever did. LaGravense
seems to know how to quarterback everyone involved here – despite the
tonal differences among all the actors – to create something quite
the real dilemma that befalls BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is that there is very
little, if any, sense of huge payoff for the central romance by the end of
the film. Even though the
cast is uniformly game, the script never really does much to embellish the
story of star-crossed lovers fighting against all odds to see their love
win over those odds. The other
issue with the film is that its own entrenched mythology of the castors
never really does anything novel or invigorating with it.
Castors are, as stated, nothing more than powerful witches, and the
film really misses a golden opportunity to either do something deliriously
different with its premise or, more intriguingly, satirically comment on the
castor’s existence within the larger framework of a normal society.
The film seems to have more fun with emphasizing southern
stereotypes and overused melodramatic conceits to help sell its narrative.
Not very much in the overall story of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES feels
cutting edge…or even has edge or a sense of meaningful conflict or
danger. I never really once
feared for the plight of Lena and Ethan.
I think that it’s clear that the makers here were hoping for BEAUTIFUL CREATURES to be the starting point of a potentially lucrative young adult franchise to appease the tweeners in the audience trying to fill their TWILIGHT void and hungers. There are interesting concepts and ideas at the heart of the film, and the actors playing the adolescent lovers are indeed good together. Yet, I strained myself to piece together anything truly memorable about the film days after seeing it. The soul-sucking awfulness of the TWILIGHT films stuck with me well after screening them, but with BEAUTIFUL CREATURES I am more stuck with nagging feelings of missed opportunities here with its material.