Review: Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures ReviewDirected by: Richard LaGravenese.

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum.

Rating:   Running Time: 124 mins.

There are no less than four movies this year that seem to be vying to fill the void left this year after the final instalment in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, all based on young adult novels with similar themes of a romance mixed in with a supernatural element. We’ve already had Warm Bodies, which featured the backdrop of zombies for the supernatural element, next month sees another of Stephanie Meyer’s book’s adapted in The Host , which has the story set amid a body snatchers invasion, and later this year we have The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones which features angels and demons. Beautiful Creatures, based on the novel by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, fits similarly into the category of these genres with the supernatural element being witchcraft.

The story follows Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a teenager who lives with his father in the small middle of nowhere town Gatlin. Ethan longs for a life far away from the monotony of a town that is so behind the times it has more churches than books in it’s library, a cinema that never gets anything before it’s out on DVD, and is so far out of touch with the world it doesn’t even have a Starbucks. For months, he has had the same nightmare in which he sees a woman who’s face he cannot see, but feels as if he knows.

Beautiful Creatures - Alice Englert & Alden EhrenreichSoon after, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) arrives at school. The niece of Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), who is the town recluse and outsider, viewed as many in the town’s strongly religious community to be something akin to an evil devil worshipper. Despite warnings from (Macon), Ethan finds himself drawn towards the interesting Lena, unawares that she is descended from a long line of cursed witches, who call themselves ‘Casters’. Lena will shortly turn 16, at which point she will undergoe a ritual that will reveal her true nature, either to join the forces of good and light, or to join the forces of evil and darkness.

Beautiful Creatures - Jeremy Irons, Alice Englert & Alden EhrenreichI’ve seen this described by some as The Craft meets Twilight, and while that’s vaguely accurate, it’s far more off-putting than this movie deserves. Like the Twilight movies, this is the first of four books, and while fans of the books may dislike the comparison, it does serve to highlight one issue that I have always had with those movies, which is that for being based on a book, they seemed particularly light in content when they should have been filled (you will never manage to fit everything from a book into a movie). Beautiful Creatures feels more full of content than the average book-to-screen adaptation, making it a stronger movie than any of the five in that series.

Beautiful Creatures - Viola Davis, Alice Englert & Alden EhrenreichOf course, being a teen-set movie, it’s not perfect, it suffers from stereotypical characters like the bitchy religious girls at the school, or the voodoo seer (played by the excellent Viola Davis who is unfortunately underused here). There’s also the setting of the town with a hick mentality whose people’s only real past-time is either spent in church or re-enacting battles from the American civil war. There’s also a fair amount of clunky dialogue that, while not entirely terrible, is enough to be noticeable throughout the movie.

The story has it’s fair share of issues too, though this does not appear to be an issue of storytelling, but rather elements from the book, which involves the history of the curse that is hovering over Lena’s family. This could have been handled better in the movie, but similar themes have been the downfall of other movies when handled poorly, so credit should be given to the cast and crew for preventing that from happening here. There are also more dialogue heavy scenes between characters than you might expect, which some may find too much, but with the decent level of performances given here, are not a hindrance to the movie. Again, this is likely to be from the source material which suggests that care and attention has been taken with adapting the source to the screen.

Beautiful Creatures - Behind the scenesThe movie also has a more interesting visual style than I expected going in. At one point there is a very nicely done sequence where Ethan parks his car at the gates to a property, walks through the gates, and finds himself standing behind his car all in one shot without any edits, and it’s a moment that made me realise that director Richard LaGravenese and director of photography Philippe Rousselot (who’s credits include the recent Sherlock Holmes movies) weren’t phoning in their work on the movie.

Beautiful Creatures - Emmy RossumThe young cast as well, give much stronger performances than expected. Again, comparing against the first Twilight movie (I know, sorry), Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert are not only watch-able in the lead roles but give solid performances consistently throughout the movie where other actors would have struggled. Adding to the mix are veteran actors Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, both of whom are in scenery chewing mode, but seem to be restraining themselves from overdoing it. Emmy Rossum on the other hand, is in full-on – four course meal – scenery chewing mode, and really could have reeled it in a little. As mentioned, Viola Davis also plays a central role to the story, and though she gives a good performance, even though it’s said to be a combination of two characters from the book (having not read the books I cannot comment as to how faithful they are), she’s underused throughout.

Beautiful Creatures won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s a far more entertaining movie than you might expect and deserves to do no worse than Twilight at the box office. As long as the same level of competent film-making is continued, I would welcome seeing further movies based on the remainder of the books brought to the screen.

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Posted on February 15, 2013, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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