Beautiful Creatures (2013)

Alice Englert is a pretty young woman with a wonderfully wry turn of expression; why every poster for the film picked a selfie duckface shot, I do not know.
Alice Englert is a pretty young woman with a wonderfully wry turn of expression; why every poster for the film picked a selfie duckface shot, I do not know.

“Dark Secrets Will Come to Light”

Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, and Emma Thompson

Ethan (Ehrenreich) is that small town boy, too cerebral to feel comfortable with the popular crowd, but too popular to be a proper nerd, and yearning to break out of Gatlin, South Carolina (not to be confused with Gatlin, Nebraska, where they have their own troubles).  When he meets new girl Lena Duchannes (Englert), he realises that she is the girl he has been dreaming about for months, and he is slowly drawn into the world of her family, who are ‘Casters’, magicians who follow either the Light – becoming minor league American character actors – or the Dark – causing them to evolve into A-list British thespians with dodgy accents (Irons and Thompson); I can only assume that Emmy Rossum’s Ridley will morph into Lena Headey on her thirtieth.

On her sixteenth birthday, Lena will be claimed for the Dark or the Light, and there is a curse to be reckoned with that says Dark is the way. Ethan might be her salvation, but Casters aren’t supposed to love mortals, and the price may be more than Lena is willing to pay.

What’s wrong with it?

Beautiful Creatures has a lot of the problems common to the Twiclone subgenre, primarily the focus on romance and in particular the central romance to the exclusion of the larger (and more interesting) plot, and any number of minor characters (our hero’s best friend basically vanishes into a siren’s embrace for a quarter of the movie and no-one even wonders what’s up).

Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson are wonderful actors, but they really, really aren’t from South Carolina.

The film is fundamentally shown from Ethan’s PoV, so suddenly removing his memories, agency and direct involvement with the plot is something of a poor play.

Men get to chose Light or Dark more or less as they go along; women are absolutely stuck with whatever their ‘true nature’ dictates, even if it runs completely counter to their, umm, true nature. I have a problem with this.

What’s right with it?

Overall, the film actually has a lot to like. The leads are likable, the support excellent, and the writing is well above standard. Ethan’s narration is dry and witty enough to be missed when the film lets it slide in the middle section.

The landscapes are gorgeous, and the limited effects add rather than detracting from the story.

The film’s literary call-outs, while necessarily superficial, are apposite and better chosen than Twilight‘s use of Wuthering Heights as a model of star-crossed outsider love (rather than pathological obsession).

How bad is it really?

Beautiful Creatures was critically panned, and maybe it is because of this that I went in with no expectations and had a blast. I do, however, feel that it was done wrong, and if you’re going to watch any teen paranormal romance movie, it might as well be this one. You could certainly do a lot worse.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Ethan and Lena trigger their shared past-life regression in Gatlin’s cinema, and the vision plays out in a phantasmal mist on the movie screen. It’s a beautifully shot scene.

What’s up with…?

  • Women being at the mercy of their alleged ‘true nature’? There is no explanation given, or even attempted; magic is just a dick.
  • Ethan’s ability to protect Lena through the power of twu wuv being introduced and then immediately ignored?
  • Ridley’s plot-critical seduction and manipulation of Link being relegated to two unconnected scenes?
  • The curse that everyone is so hushhush about, but that everyone suddenly knows how to break, including the people whose fiendish plan involves that very thing, despite the fact that it runs counter to their goals? The secrets of the Book of the Moon are apparently like nuclear fission in Civilization: as soon as one person learns them, everyone reaps the benefits and before know it Gandhi is kicking your arse in the arms race.
  • The Chekhov failure? A flintlock derringer appears in an early scene and is never used to shoot anyone.

Ratings

Production values – The film is gorgeous, in a Southern Gothic kind of way, and the misty flashbacks to past lives are lovingly executed. It almost makes one wish that we could have seen more of that part of the story (which would also have tied in even better with Ethan’s references to Slaughterhouse-Five). 5
Dialogue and performances – All-in-all, the film is well-performed, with a dry humour in the writing that it is hard not to warm to. Pints are lost for Irons and Thompson’s accents, however. 9
Plot and execution – Overall, the plot is solid, but it kind of loses its way at the end, when the narrator/protagonist is written out of the story. 8
Randomness – After a sound build-up, the ending of the film gets snarled up with stuff they hadn’t quite managed to pitch in properly. 7
Waste of potential – For a YA paranormal romance launched into the cinema on the back of the Twilight phenomenon, this is a pretty solid effort. 6

Overall 35%

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