A teen romance flick with strong supernatural vibes – sounds familiar? Alas, Beautiful Creatures will inevitably draw Twilight comparisons, but where its fanged forerunner was as wooden as a stake, Beautiful Creatures is a smart and funny movie with some strong performances.
Photo: Warner Bros
The film concerns the unusual love life of Ethan Wate, an intellectual outsider in a small town in the American South. After falling for mysterious new girl, Lena Duchannes, he must contend with her dangerous magical family, whilst bracing himself for Lena’s birthday, where she will irreversibly become good or evil.
After an impressively Gothic and intriguing opening, you know you are in for more than a typical teenage romance. Protagonist Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) is male, for starters, and he’s not bland and unapproachable. Quite the opposite! His goofy yet intelligent demeanour is instantly likeable, and you feel immediately drawn into his world of reading banned books and pursuing hapless romance. Co-star Alice Englert also gives a commendable performance as blossoming ‘caster’ Lena Duchannes, managing to be brooding rather than boring in her introductory scenes. As the plot picks up, she gets some great action set-pieces, and is always fun to watch. However it is veteran Brit Jeremy Irons who steals the show. Channelling Professor Snape with a healthy dash of David Bowie, Irons impressively avoids hamming it up as Lena’s reclusive uncle, Macon Ravenwood. Instead, he exudes dark charisma; his scenes are eminently enjoyable, particularly when glibly performing dark magic on unsuspecting visitors. With engaging central characters and dark humour, Beautiful Creatures is able to really engage a wide audience, a rare achievement for a film of its genre.
The movie also benefits from its setting. The South Carolina location enables an interesting new take on the Gothic; pagan temples swarm with crocodiles in the swamps, and magicians dwell in decrepit colonial mansions, replete with vines, catkins and cast iron gates. The setting of the town’s Civil War battlefield is skilfully woven into the plot, and enables some excellent flashback scenes, amongst the best in the film. However, the film’s setting is also one of its biggest weaknesses. Clichés seem to be unavoidable in Gatlin, South Carolina. The small town high school, the awkward date locations and the romantic tree in which to canoodle under all make major appearances in the movie. Likewise, many of the characters seem somewhat familiar. The vicious school girls, puritanical townsfolk and evil ‘casters’ seem somewhat recycled from other films; this over-familiarity and lack of development in many characters is a real sore point. Beautiful Creatures would also benefit from losing fifteen minutes. Whilst the romance needs time to develop in order to be convincing, it did begin to drag from time to time, not ideal in a film that passes the two hour mark.
Despite these criticisms, Beautiful Creatures features likeable characters, great visuals and a compelling central romance that may even have you coming back for the inevitable sequel!