Rating: PG-13 (violence, scary images, and some sexual material)
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2013
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese
Stars: 3 out of 5
Based on the first book in the four-volume “Caster Chronicles” series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, “Beautiful Creatures” is a romantic drama film that is banking on the popularity of the genre created by “Twilight” to draw in the same core crowd. While the movie is entertaining enough, those who are familiar with the books might find themselves wishing the film has stayed true to the storyline. Much like Charlaine Harris’s popular “Southern Vampire Mysteries” series has been modified for a different medium with HBO’s “True Blood,” the silver-screen offering of “Beautiful Creatures” compresses key characters together to form entirely new characters and twists at some of the crucial plot points, making it a derivation rather than a faithful retelling of the story.
The movie opens with Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) waking up from a recurring dream about a girl he’s never met before. The small-town boy laments his existence in the middle of nowhere and looks forward to the day he can escape to college. Things change, however, when he arrives for his first day of junior year to find the girl of his dreams has joined his class. The girl in question is the heroine of the story, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert).
Lena’s reclusive uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons) is the object of much gossip at school and is accused by her classmates of being a devil worshipper, which causes Lena to react badly and draw the same type of gossip about herself. Lena’s day becomes even worse when her car breaks down and Ethan almost runs over her. He offers her a ride home, and the two bond over shared interests and situations. Later, Ethan finds a locket and has a vision of himself and Lena as star-crossed lovers during the Civil War era.
Though Lena’s uncle Macon disproves of her budding romance with Ethan and tries to break the two of them up, the two of them can’t stay away from each other. Later, she confesses the reason for her uncle’s reticence, Lena and her family are “casters,” and on the day she turns sixteen, she’ll be claimed for either the Light Side or the Dark Side. She fears that if she turns to the dark side, she’ll destroy everything she loves-including Ethan himself. Ethan isn’t afraid, convinced that Lena will remain true to her own heart no matter which direction she takes.
While “Beautiful Creatures” mimics the timeless romance of “Twilight,” it stands out for the depth of humanity in the characterizations that “Twilight” lacks. Honest and self-deprecating, Wate is a much more endearing character than Edward. Wate’s small-town charm combined with his openness and genuine sweetness makes him more of the type that mothers would want to meet. While Lena takes up on some of the sullen slack of Edward, no one could ever confuse her with Bella. Lena is a very strong character whose reasons for slight surliness and loads of defensiveness come from her understanding of the bigger picture of the reality of her life, giving her depth of character and highlighting her unselfishness.
Jeremy Irons as Lena’s uncle Macon provides an understated performance. Though he often plots against the couple, his reasons are heartfelt and it shows. Though he was claimed for the Dark Side, he roots unselfishly for Lena to make her own decisions. On the other hand, Emma Thompson as Sarafine, Lena’s mother, ups the creepy quotient by encouraging her child toward the darkness, turning in an over-the-top performance that is at times absolutely chilling. Rounding out the cast is Emily Rawson as Lena’s super-seductive cousin Ridley who spends her time leading men to destruction and attempting to convince Lena that bad can be beautiful.
Though the romance between Lena and Wate feels a bit rushed and full of sweet and smarmy puppy love, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it mimics the type of romance that teenagers often experience, giving the film a touch of realism. Where the film falters, however, is the lack of explanation and missed plot points that so many readers expect after reading the books. Also, though there’s lots of talk about the Dark and the Light, there are few real chills and thrills that will draw in hardcore horror aficionados, which limits the movie’s broader appeal. While “Beautiful Creatures” will certainly entertain many viewers, it could have made a better showing with a more tightly written script and by focusing more on what made the books so popular.