Like me, many of you probably had the same reaction upon seeing the first trailers for Beautiful Creatures: it’s just Twilight with Witches. With the vacuum left by Stephanie Meyers shamefully successful “saga” it comes as no surprise that Hollywood has been grooming suitors to bring in the same young adult (and not-so-young adult) audiences that made the franchise such a success. While The Hunger Games has so far been the biggest name to fill that void, no other project has so blatantly clung to Twlight’s coattails as Beautiful Creatures has. It might have worked, too, if it weren’t for a fatal error on Warner Bros’ part; Scheduling the movie for a Valentines Day release in direct competition with Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven. While a Valentines Day release for a youth-skewing romance may have seemed like a good idea at some point in time, the movie’s horrendous weekend gross at the box office shows just how much of the movie’s target audience was taken away by it’s romantic competitor. The real shame is, despite all of its genre cliches and its predictable plot, a surprisingly sharp script and some expectedly great performances from an illustrious supporting cast make it a real shame that we’ll never see a sequel to Beautiful creatures
Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.
The plot is by far the weakest point of the film. The star-crossed lovers track has been tread so many times before that the addition of any sort of supernatural being, be it vampires or zombies or witches, wouldn’t be enough to spice things up on its own. You can make your characters as great as you like, but unless you take the plot of a movie in a direction that the audience can’t see coming a mile away, you’re not going to end up with anything but an average-feeling movie.
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is probably the biggest thing that separates Beautiful Creatures from the Twilight saga as he is NOT a pale, brooding douche. Instead, Ethan’s character is built on a combination of Southern charm, awkward tenacity and an unflappable desire to escape from the cultural black hole that is the town of Gatlin, South Carolina. I’ll admit that Ehrenreich overacts a bit from time to time, especially when he’s going for comedy, but the sort of frustrated adoration he is able to convey for Lena is one of the only things that makes the romantic angle of the film bearable.
Lena (Alice Englert), on the other hand, occasionally verges on overly-moody but so are 15 year olds. If you’re watching this though, you’re probably aware of the fact that teenagers are mostly self-obsessed, immature and overly emotional, so those character flaws won’t stick out as much. It definitely helps that she’s given some of the best zings of the movie, though truth be told making fun of Southerners is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. In any case, I did appreciate that the feeling of not belonging shared by the two leads led to an understandable basis for their romance. Lena is a new kid in town, prematurely outcast by her demonized family name, while Ethan and his fondness for banned books seems to be the only kid in school who has any desire to expand his horizons.
Aside from the superiority of its two romantic leads, another factor Beautiful Creatures has over Twilight is a much stronger supporting cast. Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons are particularly worthy of attention, respectively as Lena’s Dark Caster mother and her reclusive yet kindhearted uncle Macon. Thompson basically plays two characters, one the bible pounding mother of Ethan’s friend Link (Thomas Mann in his second Witch-featuring movie in less than a month) and the other the Dark Caster Sarafine who fills the role as villain #1. I for one have never been anything less than impressed with a performance I’ve seen from Thompson, and while she’s a bit over the top at times she still manages to hit the right notes of flamboyant evil to make the character work. Villain #2, on the other hand, is filled by an oddly chosen return to the silver screen by Phantom of the Opera‘s Emily Rossum as Lena’s cousin Ridley. I really wanted to like Rossum, but she’s far to overly dramatic and hyper-sexualized here to make much of an impact.
Looking to the good guys instead, Irons was my favorite character in the film, resulting from a combination of the actor’s inherent awesomeness and the propensity for verbal beat-downs he shares with his niece. Between this and Eragon though, the man doesn’t seem to have very good luck in picking profitable young adult franchises He’s helped out by Amma (Viola Davis), Ethan’s housekeeper and Caster Librarian. I love Viola Davis as well, but she really isn’t given that much to do here.
The final and most noticeable factor which sets Beautiful Creatures aside from Twilight is the fact that writing isn’t just not terrible, it’s actually very entertaining from time to time. Sure, the story is bland and the characters are fairly straightforward, but the dialogue those characters are given makes a very strong effort to be witty and ends up succeeding most of the time. Of course, the “Most of the time” means there are quite a few intentionally funny lines that try way too hard (which isn’t helped by Ehrenreich’s occasionally hammy performance), but I’d rather have a movie’s script try to sparkle and succeed occasionally than not try at all.
The Verdict: 6.5/10 – Perfectly Adequate
+ Likable leads, at least by genre standards
+ Great supporting cast led by Thompson and Irons
+ A sharp script featuring enough snappy dialogue to entertain between req. plot points
– Incredibly predictable & cliche plot (might be a deal-breaker for some)
The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5
im a movie nerd: “This is what “Twilight” should have been … good campy fun.”
My Reel POV: [I’ve outgrown it a little, but still enjoyed it]