BEAUTIFUL CREATURES Review

Personally, I've been rooting for Beautiful Creatures since first seeing the trailer and its stellar mix of southern goth and Florence & the Machine soundtrack. Though I haven't read the young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl the film is based on, I was intrigued by the setting, the fantasy and trying to assure myself that the next teen-lit adaptation featuring witches, wizards, or vampires had to be better than those Twilight movies. While it seems the buzz has been slow to build around this series I truly hope it becomes a talking point among its target audience and even beyond as I would love to see this series continue and have the opportunity to tell all four of its stories on film. While I enjoyed the movie plenty, there is much left to be desired and to a certain degree this takes away from the experience of the film. In some ways, it is as if this is only exists to set things up for what might come in the future and granted, that might just be due to the fact that there is still very much to come in the future. Still, for a first chapter there is much to enjoy here as the film adaptation of Beautiful Creatures features an impressive and very likable cast that executes its somewhat familiar story with a flair for the fun in it. There was a film a few years ago called Stardust and I always wished it had become a bigger success than it was. Based on a Neil Gaiman story it was a fun, enjoyable, very good film that took itself just seriously enough to feel credible while also not feeling overly cheesy when dealing with such things as witches and wizards. Beautiful Creatures is not as good a film as Stardust, but in the same vein it is a none too serious take on the fantasy world that gets overlooked or under cooked these days. Any movie that can involve elements of such genres and still manage some humor and honest drama is a welcome treat.

Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) and Amma (Viola Davis) face unseen forces in their small town.
Director Richard LaGravenese (P.S. I Love You, Freedom Writers) has adapted the novel for the screen and created a lovely looking film that overall keeps a consistent tone and involves the audience in its story the way any good movie does when you feel you know the place or the people. Set the in the very small, fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina we are told the story mainly through the eyes of Ethan Wate (a charming Alden Ehrenreich) as he is set to enter his junior year of high school and wants nothing more than to get far far away from the religious radicals and book banning towns folk. These extremes are especially prevelant around the Ravenwood family and its patriarch Macon (Jeremy Irons) as they are believed to be a family of witches by the majority of the community. When Macon's niece Lena (Alice Englert) shows up the first day of school things do not go well. She is mocked and abused by her small-minded classmates but Ethan sees something in her, recognizes her even, from a recurring dream he's been having. Ultimately, this is a love story, but fortunately for us there is no love triangle going on here and the guy is at the mercy of the girl who has the supernatural powers here. There is no time for Lena to wait around whining and being indecisive. No, what plagues her is the fact she has no choice in what her future will be. She is on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday and on that day she will either be claimed by the light or the dark. She will become bad or she will stay the pure, sweet girl she is at present. Naturally, falling in love wasn't part of the plan and Macon thinks this will only end up in heartbreak pushing her towards the dark. There are also unseen forces moving around Gatlin in hopes of brining Lena to the dark side. I won't go into much more as letting the story unfold and rooting for certain characters is part of the fun but not being able to even crack the tip of the iceberg as far as story goes is one of the issues I took with the film.

It may sound as if I am simply looking for something to complain about but in reality it is the antithesis of that. In fact, my main problem with the film is that I wish it would have been a little longer, a little more fleshed out and been allowed the opportunity to take its time in trying to explain some of the things that happen and justify better what is going on and why. The film has so much exposition to deal with, so many characters to set up and so many rules of its universe to clarify it is tough to incorporate all of this into the same dialogue that is trying to achieve creating real and natural relationships between characters as well. LaGravenese does a good job of setting up each of his characters and who they are in relation to the core of the story but it is what they can and can't do that sometimes gets lost in translation. Everything isn't black and white, good guys and bad guys here either.There is plenty to experiment with in the grey areas of Gatlin and that is where the film succeeds the most. The town is a full fledged character and having it set in this very definitive location that evokes a certain kind of people, a certain way of life mixes well with the crucible-like hatred toward anything that threatens their innocence and peace. This adds the ever building tension towards what will eventually happen to Lena and if she and Ethan will be able to escape the troubles of her family and his town and live happily ever after. That is all well and good but as more characters enter the story and plot lines get mixed up and somehow resolved by ancient witch libraries and forbidden spells that tie into an underdeveloped backstory the film begins to feel a bit sloppy, a bit of a mess that just became too overwhelming at some point and was hashed out as best they could to set it up for its potential sequel.

Gramma (Eileen Atkins), Lena (Alice Englert), and Macon (Jeremy Irons) in Beautiful Creatures.
I couldn't help but to enjoy the film as it came to a close though and hope it does turn a big enough profit that we do get to see that sequel someday. Despite even, the story getting lost in itself at certain points and the special effects looking rather cheap at times, the cast and their willingness to dive into their roles and really chew the scenery was entertaining enough. The elements of fantasy bring the movie to life in a way that doesn't always happen when coming from a book but it seems very evident that this film was able to at least capture the spirit of the novel it came from and that is what really matters when you talk about what makes a good book to movie adaptation. Going back to the engaging cast, newcomers Ehrenreich and Englert make grand entrances as the protagonist lovers, but it is especially Ehrenreich who will stick with you as he is able to make his Ethan funny and compelling. He hasn't gone without pain, having lost his mother and having a non-existent relationship with his father, but manages a strong face and an ambition that promises a better life than Gatlin can deliver. Thomas Mann (Project X) plays Ethan's best friend Link while Viola Davis plays Amma, an old friend of his mothers who now takes care and watches out for Ethan while also having a few secrets of her own. Both Emma Thompson and Emmy Rossum do some delicious work here as they take on the true witch roles, or as they preferred to be called, "casters" that have gone over to the dark side. Irons is also in top form here as he allows his grand presence to do most of the work and strong voice as a measure of regal importance lends itself well to the outcast yet upper class Macon. I've read that Garcia and Stohl wrote Macon with Irons in mind, so there is no doubt he incarnated the character as well as anyone could have plus he loves google, so there's that. Casting lesser known actors in the leads and dependable names as the supporting is an old trick now, but it works every time and does its job here to help us buy into the relationship at the center of the story while accepting the fantastical elements surrounding it with little question. If Beautiful Creatures is simply getting their feet wet, I truly am excited for what might be possible with Beautiful Darkness.