These days, whenever a popular book series is adapted to film, fans often wonder if it’s going to live up to their expectations. Will beloved characters be omitted? Will new ones be introduced? Will the ending change? How will the supernatural special effects be handled? A lot of these questions have definitely been tossed around in regards to the latest big-buzz movie, Beautiful Creatures. But as someone who hasn’t read the best-selling books, I’m ignoring all that and focusing on only the movie itself without comparing it to its source material by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
For those who are unfamiliar with Beautiful Creatures, the gist of the plot is this: A small-town boy named Ethan keeps having these strange and vivid dreams about a mysterious brunette. One day at school, he spots a new student who is an exact replica of his “dream girl” and he is immediately attracted to her. Her name is Lena, and she stems from a very rich yet reclusive family, whose members are rumored to be witches (Casters). Lena tries to avoid kindling a relationship with Ethan but it’s inevitable—they’re both smitten with each other. Unfortunately though, she is a female Caster who, due to a long-running curse in her lineage, is condemned to the dark unless she commits an unspeakable act. And the number on her hand—which changes daily—is a countdown that signifies her potential doomsday aka her descent from good to evil. Will Lena and Ethan beat the odds and find a way to keep her in the light? Can their love survive her sixteenth birthday?
So here’s what I liked about the movie: The concept is easy to follow—it doesn’t introduce an endless parade of supernatural entities right off the bat. I was able to get a better sense of Lena’s family history and the ins and outs of Caster mythology without struggling to play catch-up. Moreover, the cinematography is gorgeous. The movie was filmed in New Orleans (but set in Gatlin, South Carolina) so expect lots of lush scenery, sweeping skies, and solid natural lighting. (Key word: Quality!) Not only that but there are magical hidden passageways, dilapidated yet delightful houses, sleepy bayous, classic libraries, gnarled trees compassed with Spanish moss, grand staircases, and a dining room reminiscent of a rustic Anthropologie window display to keep you visually engaged. (Oh, and get ready for a snowy surprise in the middle of a spring scene when Lena decides to surprise Ethan with a romantic gift. Swoon!)
Another aspect I adored about Beautiful Creatures is the cast, which is a perfect blend of seasoned professionals and talented newcomers. Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan had great comedic timing and is as charming as he is spirited. Despite her character’s reserved and bashful nature, Alice Englert (daughter of Jane Campion) commanded the various facets of Lena with subtle precision and, better yet, likeability. Additionally, Emmy Rossum gave a thrilling and sensual performance as Ridley. Now, as for Jeremy Irons as Macon Ravenwood, Emma Thompson as Sarafin Duchannes, and Viola Davis as Amma, since I’m not familiar with the books, I can’t comment on whether or not they accurately brought the characters to life. I will say this though—they were captivating throughout. True, Irons and Thompson’s “Southern” accents were at points a little too overwrought for my liking, but I appreciated their larger-than-life portrayals. They were all having fun with their roles—relishing all the supernatural action—and it showed. (News flash: We need to get Thompson to play a Bible-Thumper possessed by a dark spirit more often.) I especially thought there was wonderful connection between Irons as Macon and Englert as Lena and grew to enjoy their growing trust in one another as she approached her dreaded birthday. What began as a cookie-cutter relationship between a strict uncle and his rebellious niece quickly turned into a heart-tugging, endearing tale of family and sacrifice!
Here’s what I wasn’t fond of: Now, I’m not sure if the editing is to blame or the screenwriting (ahh—I do love me some Richard LaGravenese though), but the narrative felt choppy. Sometimes, I wondered how the story got from point A to point C without making a necessary stop in between to explain pivotal arcs and give more depth to supporting characters.
Another thing that slightly annoyed me was that, at least at the beginning, it felt like a lukewarm version of the Twilight formula was being applied. Girl and boy meet. Girl and boy fall for one another. Cue epic love story full of angst. I understand that Ethan had dreamt about Lena long before he actually met her, but the way their romance kicked off didn’t seem authentic to me. It was much too sudden without a proper build-up. It ended up working due to the chemistry between the leads, but the initial plausibility did not seem to be well-established.
Another plot point that bothered me? There were two, to be honest. First, the mean girls are Southern-fundamentalist bigots and are so out of place in this otherwise intimate story. They bully Lena on her first day of classes (causing her to lose her cool and shatter a bunch of glass windows with her mind) for no worthwhile reason, snub her in public, and refer to her as a devil worshipper. Why? Because they’re popular and perfect and know it all. They just kept popping up, and each time they did I groaned (inside my head of course). The stereotypes were tacky and trite and, since empathy for Lena is established through her curse, their taunting accomplished nothing in terms of character growth and story progression. Speaking of the curse, that was my second grievance. The flashbacks involving Genevieve and the curse’s origins should have been more enriching to the movie as a whole, but the end result—especially after the Civil War re-enactment scene—is cartoonish rather than tantalizing and mystifying as most of the other scenes are. (Seriously, every time they flashed back to her to explain the curse, I wanted to roll my eyes because it was total cheese fare.) To add to this, the costume selections baffled me. They were beautiful—don’t get me wrong—but I had no clue as to what era the story was set in. Based on Macon’s wardrobe, I’d guess late 1800s. Based on Lena’s, I’d guess 1996. And based on Ridley’s wicked lingerie witch-wear I’d reason this is actually a high-budget episode of Once Upon a Time meets a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
Despite some questionable elements and far-fetched shenanigans though (I’m looking at you, secret ancient tomes) I enjoyed this Gothic romance. It didn’t enchant me or sweep me off my feet Gone with the Wind style as I assumed it would based on all those glorious, haunting commercials that featured “Seven Devils” by Florence and the Machine. Nevertheless, I had no complaints about the atmospheric sets and the riveting cast (and I usually do), and I definitely grew invested in the spooky world of Casters and the suspenseful “Will Lena go dark or won’t she?” debacle. The ending was solid and shocked me since it was unexpected and daring, particularly for a teen genre installment. Overall, the performances and main paranormal mystery are certainly entertaining enough to warrant a viewing.
Have you seen Beautiful Creatures yet? Did it live up to your expectations? Share your thoughts in the comments!