Beautiful Creatures

© 2013 Ray Wong

Based on Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's popular YA fantasy series, Beautiful Creatures makes no apologies retelling a teenage love story between a "mortal" and a special being -- any resemblance to Twilight or any other fantasies is purely coincidental. Or not.

Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) is a curious and book-smart jock (if there's such a thing) who yearns to leave his South Carolina small-town existence behind. When the Ravenwoods returned, the town is abuzz with speculations about satanic curses and abominations. Lena (Alice Englert), niece of patriarch Macon (Jeremy Irons) becomes the easy target when she enters the local junior high, trying to pass as normal. She also catches the eye of Ethan, who is drawn to the mystery and sensibility surrounding Lena.

In his pursuit of Lena, Ethan discovers that Lena and her family are Casters -- another term for witches -- beings with supernatural powers. Lena tries very hard to act normal and fit in, but she has little control over her increasing power. According to Lena, on her 16th birthday, she will be claimed by either the light or the dark side, depending on her true nature, and she is afraid that the dark side is going to win, just like with her mother or cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum). Ethan convinces her that she has enough good in her to avert the fate of her mother.

As Lena's birthday draws closer, she and Ethan fall deeply in love. However, they also discover that their respective ancestors were once lovers, and the two families have been bound by a curse. And with this curse, Lena's chance of being claimed by the Light becomes slim. With the help of Amma (Viola Davis), Lena finally figures out how to break the curse, but it does come with a significant price.

The two leads, Alden Ehrenreich (Stoker) and Alice Englert (Ginger and Rosa) are relative unknowns. Englert has recently garnered attention for her role as Rosa in Ginger and Rosa. Her portrayal of the teenage witch is charming, vulnerable, and sweet but not without her fair share of darkness. Englert does a good job with her complicated role. In comparison. Ehrenreich is stuck with a stereotypical, too-good-to-be-true character who is simply a female's ideal. The character development doesn't allow Ehrenreich to do much except to be a love-sick puppy. Fortunately, Ehrenreich and Englert have good chemistry together that makes, at least, their relationship seem plausible.

The supporting cast tries their best. Jeremy Irons (The Words) plays Macon with the typical Iron-esque savviness and creepiness at the same time. Somehow, though, I feel that he's channeling everything from Gomez Addams to Snape. Viola Davis (The Help) is reduced to a stereotypical southern African-American woman who knows a thing or two about the underworld. Emmy Rossum (Poseidon) has not much to do with her peripheral character who seems to just storm in and out of town simply as a plot device. The standout here is Emma Thompson (Men in Black 3) who somehow turns a cliched character into someone that is fun to watch (well, it helps that she is actually playing two characters).

Writer-director Richard LaGravenese (Water for Elephant) tries his best to adapt Garcia and Stohl's novel into a coherent story with interesting characters. It has all the right elements: likable leads, a budding romance, Southern mysticism, witchcraft, supernatural powers, a handful of quirky and unusual characters, and for the most part it works as designed. However, that simply reveals the derivative nature of the story and characters. They remind me of everything from Twilight to True Blood with bits and pieces of The Addams Family or Beetle Juice or Romeo & Juliet or Teen Wolf, etc. thrown in.

We also can't overlook the cliches and stereotypes:  a country boy falling for a worldly girl, a creepy patriarch, evil relatives, bratty ex-girlfriend, an African-American woman who happens to be a medium, etc. etc. In comparison, True Blood at least play around these familiar tropes (vampires, witches, werewolves, etc.) and comes up with twisted new ideas. In this story, we come to realize we've seen this show a thousand times already. Not to mention the smart, athletic, loyal, romantic, sweet, kind, and steadfast hero is too much of a female's dream to be believable. Wish fulfillment, anyone?

That said, I did rather enjoy the production. Under LaGravenese's direction, it has a giddy, perky and fun vibe. It is quite beautifully shot. The love story has its sweet moments. And there are a few scenes between Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson that showcase how good these actors can be, if given the right material. Unfortunately, by and large these veteran actors are way too good for this material. Too bad, despite their best efforts, this simply isn't the beautiful creature we've hoped for.

Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson, Thomas Mann, Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Writers: Richard LaGravenese (based on novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual content
Running Time: 124 minutes 


Script - 6
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 6
Editing - 7
Production - 7

Total - 6.8 out of 10.0 

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