Just when you thought you were done with the perennial teenage supernatural romance, it’s back! Oh yes, and with many more yet to come. For those still in denial that the bookstores are crawling with these kinds of stories, Beautiful Creatures may not be the best weekend ticket, but for those for whom this is the bedtime reading of choice, or those willing to give magical types a second shot, please proceed. Beautiful Creatures is a chicken-and-dumplings plate with a heapin’ helping of that angst-filled young love so common to tween fantasy, and Flannery O’Conner-flavored Southern Gothic. (The meal is topped off with a healthy side of Civil War history and folklore.)
Ethan Wate is the typical country good ol’ boy in Gatling, S.C. He wants to get the hell out of his podunk town and dreams about nothing but escaping. Well, except for this one reoccurring dream of a girl with long dark hair who then shows up at his school. Lena Duchannes is the niece of the town shut-in, Macon, and she’s strange in her own special way. But is Ethan falling for her, or does it have something to do with his dream? Then there’s that magical time in a young caster’s life where he or she becomes either a light (good) or dark (evil) caster. Female casters cannot choose their fate, so Lena could potentially turn to the dark side on her 16th birthday.
The movie is a little silly, and unlike this year’s Warm Bodies, this movie isn’t self-aware about it—it takes the drama seriously like its vampire predecessor. Certain scenes, like when Lena and her cousin Ridley get in a fight, overstay their welcome before becoming awkward displays of CGI. And the ridiculous insights into people’s thoughts have got to go; this trend should have died after Dune.
Like the Harry Potter films, Beautiful Creatures places relatively unknown faces in the center, but surrounds them with a strong supporting cast. Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich have a few film credits between them and bring the fresh-faced couple to life. Viola Davis plays a caring neighbor with secrets of her own who helps out Ethan’s family. Emmy Rossum crops up in alluring costumes as Lena’s older, wayward cousin. Emma Thompson delightfully plays the biggest baddie, Lena’s mean mom, who’s the darkest caster of them all. Then there’s Macon, creepily played by the masterful Jeremy Irons. Despite a shaky attempt at Southern twang, Irons was a delight to watch, if only because he makes a perfect “mysterious man in an all-white suit” (who disapproves of his niece’s suitor).
However, there is more about confronting the outside world as a weirdo than the Twilight movies explore. Lena is teased and ostracized, Mean Girls style, by a bunch of self-righteous Christian zealots. In addition to including the outside world in the Beautiful Creatures bubble, the series reverses the power dynamic that bothered some of audiences of the Twilight series. Lena possesses the supernatural powers, and she uses them to protect Ethan. This is wildly different from Twilight’s Edward Cullen, who he has to restrain himself from either biting his beloved Bella or tearing her up in a fit of passion. (It should also be noted that for a picture about a bunch of high school kids, Beautiful Creatures largely leaves sex out of the picture.)
That’s not to say the women of Beautiful Creatures get off easy—there’s the strange inability of the female casters to choose their fate. (Instead they are “claimed” by either side, which also comes with its own new personality reassignment.) Meanwhile, their male caster counterparts can chose, with minor consequences. Perhaps this is addressed later in the series.
For all the complexities woven into the candy-coated fantasy shell, Beautiful Creatures isn’t top-shelf quality, but nor is it the dregs. Instead, it’s a Southern-fried supernatural teen romance that’s all empty calories and rich taste—just the thing for a Valentine’s Day release.
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Writer: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Alice Englert , Alden Ehrenreich, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2013