It goes without saying that this film, at least in this iteration, wouldn’t exist if not for the success of Twilight. The teen angst-filled supernatural forbidden love story genre is all the rage right now, and the studios are jumping all over that bandwagon. Having said that, the filmmakers of Beautiful Creatures have managed to craft this Twilight rip-off that not only proves better than Twilight, but ends up a thoroughly entertaining, if not altogether cheesy, piece of entertainment in its own right.
The story of Beautiful Creatures revolves around the concept of Casters, or as you and I know them, witches. While the backstory of the film is pretty convoluted, the primary story revolving around our lead, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), is relatively straightforward. Through a great deal of exposition, we learn that on Lena’s approaching 16th birthday birthday, she has the potential to instantly transform into a Dark or Light Caster, good or evil. This won’t be determined just by her true nature, but elements of her bloodline as well. Due to various plot mechanics, it is revealed that her transition could signify a mortal apocalypse, with Casters dominating the Earth. Unfortunately, shock of all shocks, she falls in love just before this pivotal moment, a forbidden love that could push her over the edge into the darkness.
While I found the film to be a great deal of fun throughout, there are two elements that elevate the material beyond the norm. The first of these is the location. Set in South Carolina, there is a sort of gothic lushness to the proceedings that is unusual in a film such as this. It’s all very backwoods but gorgeous, and I found it to be a beautiful location for the film. Beyond the visuals, this setting enabled the screenwriters to populate the film with several memorable characters embracing the worst characteristics of the South.
As explained by Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), this is one of those overly religious towns, as demonstrated through their propensity for banning classic works of literature in the name of protecting the students. The juxtaposition between the judgmental condemnation of the holier-than-thou residents and the presumed evil of the Casters created an interesting dynamic and a heightened sense of tension throughout.
Of course, none of this would work if the performances weren’t up to the task, and there is some great work here. I mentioned before that there are two elements of the film that stood out for me, and the performances are the second. There isn’t a wasted role in the film, and everybody fully commits to their character. While nobody involved could be accused of subtlety, almost every performance elevates the material through sheer conviction. Particular standouts include Jeremy Irons, chewing the scenery with the best of them in his role of Lena’s uncle, Macon Ravenwood, Emmy Rossum as Lena’s cousin Ridley (who is already a Dark Caster), and especially Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lincoln, the overly righteous pillar of the community with a secret. Her performance is so over-the-top that it borders on camp, and I couldn’t imagine the role being interpreted any other way .
As with any love story, the film hinges on the chemistry between the two leads. Englert and Ehrenreich have a natural connection between them that makes their character’s relationship completely believable. On paper, the love story came on a little quick and could have used a bit more setup leading into it. However, these two work so well together, I was able to buy into the romance of the situation and accept that their love was that strong, that quick. Unlike in Twilight (last reference, I promise) where Bella and Edward seem off puttingly uncomfortable around each other, these two seem made for each other.
It’s a shame that the Blu-Ray extras aren’t more substantial. Rather than providing any insight into the film itself, almost all of the features are clip packages recapping certain thematic elements of the film the viewer just watched. There’s interesting little pieces here and there, such as a quick look at some of the effects work, but it’s almost all generic filler that does nothing to enhance the experience. Also included are some deleted scenes and theatrical trailers.
Not all of the special effects are great, and the story is highly derivative. However, their are some terrific set pieces (one involving a spinning dining room table comes to mind), some fun Civil War flashbacks and a lot of creativity overall. Unfortunately, the film didn’t do that well at the box-office, and that really is a shame. The film deserved more, and I definitely recommend at least a rental. This is a film made for teenage girls, and yet, as a man in his thirties, I am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed myself.