I have to honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to seeing BEAUTIFUL CREATURES. Based on everything that I had seen from it (the trailers in particular), it looked as though it was going to be another awful to mediocre teen supernatural/romance film that’s trying desperately to capitalize on the success of the pretty bad TWILIGHT series (like we really need another one of those). Despite having a cast of actors that I do like, to me the film looked it had too many strikes against it to fully succeed. But having now seen the film, as ashamed as I am to admit it, it’s actually surprisingly not that bad.
Based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the film tells the story of a teenage named Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who lives in the small conservative Southern town of Gaitlin, South Carolina. Despite being one of the most popular kids in school, he secretly hates everything about Gaitlin and he spends most of his time reading all the books that were banned from libary by the town’s church groups and as well as organizing to getting out-of-town so he can get into college. However over the past couple of months, Ethan keeps having mysterious dreams about a girl that he has never met and isn’t sure what they are supposed to mean. One day at school he meets a mysterious new student named Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), who has just moved to Gaitlin to live with her reclusive uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). Ethan notices that Lena kind of looks like the girl that he has been dreaming about, so he decides to get to know her. At first she doesn’t want anything to do with him but over time they start to get to know each other and eventually a relationship forms between them. Ethan soon discovers that Lena isn’t just any normal girl. Lena and her family are ‘Casters’, a group of supernatural beings who can perform very powerful magic. As they get more and more in love, their relationship is soon tested when as her 16th draws near when she’ll become part of a rite of passage called “The Claiming” which will determined, based on her true nature, whether she’ll claimed by either the light or the dark side of being a Caster.
On the surface, when you read the synopsis, you can definitely see why I wasn’t really looking forward this film. I haven’t read the original book that this film is based on so I went in blind with what is about but I was pretty sure that it was going to really bad but as the film went on and on, I was starting to be won over by it. While it is definitely a very flawed film in a lot of ways but I still found it a decent watch, I believe this is all to do with the film’s writer/director Richard LaGarvenese (who wrote the films THE FISHER KING, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and WATER FOR ELEPHANTS). While watching the film I started getting a feeling that LaGarvenese (along with his cast) kind of knew that the story was both rather silly and ridiculous so they decided to have fun with it (well, that’s the impression that I got anyway). It helped that LaGarvenese’s script is actually quite witty and hilarious (both intentionally and unintentionally), there were a lot of times during the course of the film that I was laughing out loud. The story itself had a lot of elements in it that I found quite interesting and it even went into a couple of directions which I honestly didn’t expect. It made the film quite engaging because of that. Another thing I really enjoyed how LaGarvenese really plays up all the clichés and stereotypes that are associated with the American South (the over exaggerated accents, the clothes, the religious elements, all town life, the history etc.) while on occasion play with our expectations as well (although, I should say that it is not a straight-up comedy, there is a lot of dramatic elements as well). Plus it helps that he has a pretty game cast on his hands.
Both Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert (who is actually a fellow Aussie) are both really good in their roles as “Ethan” & “Lena”. Unlike a certain couple from another certain supernatural series that shall not be named, their characters are actually likeable and they have really good chemistry with each other. Their characters have some interesting qualities that make them unique, which I found quite refreshing. The supporting cast all did a good job with their roles as well: Jeremy Iron camps it up nicely as “Macon” (I couldn’t help but laugh every time he spoke with his Southern accent, he sounded so much like Foghorn Leghorn from the LOONEY TOONS). Viola Davis gave quite strong and compelling performance “Amma”, while she does take her role more seriously than most of the other cast but she did a wonderful with it nonetheless (it reminded me of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance in 2012 in terms of someone playing a part very straight despite being a over-the-top film), Emmy Rossum was quite enjoyable in the villainess role of “Ridley” and Emma Thompson was so wonderfully over-the-top in her duo roles of Gaitlin’s major right-wing fanatic “Mrs. Lincoln” and Lena’s evil mother “Sarafine”. I thought she was terrible in what I saw of her in the trailer but now seeing her role in context, I quite liked her hammy scenery-chewing performance (however I can definitely why someone would hate it though). The score was solid, the production/costume was really and the cinematography was nicely done.
Even though I was entertained by BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, as I said earlier in my review that this film was still extremely flawed. The film tries to cover so many interesting elements, ideas, themes and topics (even more so than the usual film of its type, which I do give it credit for) during its 2 hour running time that it comes off rather muddled and over-plotted. There is enough plot here to make either a 3 hour film or even 2 films. It rushes though most of its plot threads without ever really giving enough time to truly developed them. If LaGarvenese took out some of these elements or rather gave the film a longer running time, it probably would have worked better. It doesn’t help that most of the dialogue feels more like exposition than anything else. Also LaGarvenese direction can be a little too much at times. His direction during some of the film’s major scenes is so over done that they comes off looking unintentionally hilarious (the dinner scene at the Ravenwood house is a good example of this). Plus the soundtrack was pretty forgettable and the CGI was weak for most part.
Overall while BEAUTIFUL CREATURES isn’t technically a ‘good’ film by any means but I would be lying if I said that it didn’t entertain me. It won’t be for everyone (having the marketing compare to TWILIGHT certainly won’t help) but it is definitely one of the better films in teen supernatural romance genre. If you go into the right mindset when watching it, you might have some fun with it as well. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure for sure.
Review written by Bede Jermyn