Movie Reviews

‘Beautiful Creatures’: Southern fried fantasy

By Zaki JufriMovies - 16 February 2013 11:45 AM | Updated 18 February 2013

‘Beautiful Creatures’: Southern fried fantasy

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

If we could choose two things that saved ‘Beautiful Creatures’ from  being thrown into a wretched cesspool that is the supernatural teen romance genre, the first would have to  be the presence of two award-winning British thespians: Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson.

The second is that the movie never takes itself seriously. It’s a funny and compelling take on young love – a coming of age drama – as compared to the never-ending tale of romance of its ‘vampires-and-werewolves’ predecessor (read: ‘Twilight’). And let’s not forget that the two leading protagonists actually look awake (emotionally and physically) throughout the movie.

About the supernatural teen romance genre: after the grand finale of ‘Twilight’, film studios seemed to have pillaged the entire “supernatural/adventure teen fiction” section of a book store for the next supernatural cash cow. Besides ‘Beautiful Creatures’, film studios has on the cards a slew of me-too movies: romance story of human and zombie (‘Warm Bodies’), Stephanie Meyer’s ‘The Host’ and adventure story about a teenager who learns she’s a descendant of a secret order of “half-angel warriors” (‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’), and not to mention the follow-up to last year’s ‘The Hunger Games’.

'Beautiful Creatures' trailer

That’s not to slag off the authors though; if done right, these movies could very well turn into a long-running franchise considering that kids these days adore anything with magic, a touch of teen angst, romance and a couple of sweet young things thrown into the mix – but we digress.

Based off the young-adult novels by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, ‘Beautiful Creatures’ explores forbidden young love in a small Southern town of Gatlin County where on the first day of junior year, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) meets Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a young witch sorry we mean “Caster” (magical beings locked in a struggle between light and dark) he’s been dreaming of for weeks. 

He takes a liking to her, finds out that she’s a witch Caster who will soon turn “light” or “dark”. The young star-crossed cursed lovers then try to find a way to make sure Lena doesn't go all ‘Wicked’ when she turns 16 in the coming weeks. We all know how this goes: Ethan doesn’t really care which way she goes, he just want to be with her. Her family disapproves of Lena’s suitor, all hell breaks loose. Throw in a plot twist, showdown finale and they live happily ever after.

Despite having little acting credits to his name, Ehrenreich’s earnest performance as a bookish jock carries the movie forward and grounds the movie in reality. His efforts to win Lena’s heart also make the romance work: She feels she will be a dark Caster, but Ethan believes in free will. He tells her nothing can ever tear them apart, and eventually, she begins to believe in their love. Awwww.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ sees a reversal of roles and it’s the girl here that has the powers. Possessing more emotional depth and facial expressions than Kristen Stewart is director Jane Campion’s doe-eyed daughter Alice Englert who plays the leading Caster, Lena. Englert – who looks like a cross between Rooney Mara, Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence – outchews Stewart in the acting department, oozing wit and authentic emotions. Her pairing with Ehrenreich’s Ethan is textbook.

Beautiful Creatures

Jeremy Irons with the young stars

Adding a dash of gravitas to the movie is Irons who plays Macon Ravenwood, Lena’s reclusive uncle; and Thompson who takes on two characters (Gatlin’s chief religious zealot as well as a darker role) here; as well as Viola Davis’ soothsaying librarian and Ethan’s guardian, Amma. All three much-heralded actors won’t be getting any additions to the awards mantle but what they bring to the plate elevates this from your run-of-the-mill teen romance flick. The trio brings ACTUAL acting to the show. Irons brings emotional range, timing and depth as does Davis while Thompson is a contrast of funny and fearsome. When director Richard LaGravenese needs some heavy-duty lifting or when the story needs a push, he calls in the adults.

Credit has to be given to writer-director LaGravenese (‘The Horse Whisperer’, ‘P.S. I Love You’) for his laudable effort to cram 500-pages of the source material to slightly over two hours. But even with skillful editing, there are still lots to shoehorn in and the movie does get noticeably sluggish in the middle. Just when you thought that it’s going to be another by-the-numbers teen movie, you realise that it’s actually good (did we just say that?) and quite romantic thanks to LaGravenese’s deft dialogue.

The movie is not without its effects – it is a supernatural movie after all. You get Civil War-era flashbacks, a nauseating Caster battle scene between Lena and vampy cousin Ridley (a smokin’ hot Emmy Rossum) in the family’s dining room as well as the “final boss” scene complete with apocalyptic storm.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ does what it needs to do to cast a spell. There are some missed opportunities to draw in audiences into the intriguing world of the Casters, not to mention a plot full of holes and muddy story-telling. But the deal-clincher here is that the movie deals with real human values, rational thinking and that it’s ok to move on; definitely miles ahead of ‘Twilight’.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ opens in theatres 14 February 2013