Beautiful Creatures is a Cut Above Other Supernatural Teen Romances

'Tis the season of the perennial teenage supernatural romance.  New film Beautiful Creatures is a chicken-and-dumplings plate with a heapin' helping of that angst-filled young love so common to tween fantasy, spiced with Flannery O'Conner-flavored Southern Gothic and topped off with a healthy side of Civil War history and folklore.

Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is the typical country good ol' boy in Gatling, S.C who wants to get the hell out of his podunk town and dreams of nothing but escaping. Well, except for this one reoccurring dream of a girl with long dark hair who then shows up at his school. Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) is the niece of the town shut-in, Macon, and she's strange in her own special way. Turns out Lena is a "caster" (like a witch, but for some reason, not a "witch") and is at the magical-stressful time in her life where she will become good or evil. Female casters cannot choose their fate, so Lena could potentially turn to the dark side on her 16th birthday.

The movie is a little silly, and unlike this year's Warm Bodies, this movie isn't self-aware about it—it takes the drama seriously like its vampire predecessor that shall not be named. Certain scenes, like when Lena and her cousin Ridley get in a fight, overstay their welcome before becoming awkward displays of CGI. And the ridiculous insights into people's thoughts have got to go; this trend should have died after Dune

Beautiful Creatures focuses its story on confronting the outside world as a weirdo. Lena is teased and ostracized—Mean Girls style—by a bunch of self-righteous Christian zealots. In addition to including the outside world in the Beautiful Creatures bubble, the film reverses the power dynamic that bothered some of audiences of the Twilight series. Lena possesses the supernatural powers, and she uses them to protect Ethan. This is wildly different from Twilight's Edward Cullen, who he has to restrain himself from either biting his beloved, helpless Bella or tearing her up in a fit of passion. (It should also be noted that for a picture about a bunch of high school kids, Beautiful Creatures largely leaves sex out of the picture.)

That's not to say the women of Beautiful Creatures get off easy—there's the strange inability of the female casters to choose their fate. (Instead they are "claimed" by either side, which also comes with its own new personality reassignment.) Meanwhile, their male caster counterparts can chose, with minor consequences. Perhaps this is addressed later in the series.

There are several great female characters, though: Viola Davis plays a caring neighbor with secrets of her own who helps out Ethan's family; Emmy Rossum crops up in alluring costumes as Lena's older, wayward cousin; Emma Thompson delightfully plays the biggest baddie, Lena's mean mom, who's the darkest caster of them all. The masterful Jeremy Irons plays Macon and despite a shaky attempt at Southern twang, Irons was a delight to watch, if only because he makes a perfect "mysterious man in an all-white suit" who disapproves of his niece's suitor. Like the Harry Potter films, Beautiful Creatures places relatively unknown faces in the center, but surrounds them with a strong supporting cast.

For all the complexities woven into the candy-coated fantasy shell, Beautiful Creatures isn't top-shelf quality, but nor is it the dregs. Instead, it's a Southern-fried supernatural teen romance that's all empty calories and rich taste—just the thing for a Valentine's Day release.

 

Orginally posted at Paste Magazine

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Comments

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*Spoilers Ahead* In the book,

*Spoilers Ahead*

In the book, it's not all female casters that don't get to pick - it's only those in Lena's family because of an ancestor who had turned to darkness and basically caused a curse that any descendants would have their choice taken from them, be it male OR female.

What I also found super frustrating as well with the movie is that the character Marion and Alma were combined into one single character played by Viola Davis. I found it odd, that two African-American characters who were important to the story in their own right in the book, are suddenly shoe-horned into one character in the movie.

Also, as a side point, the character Macon never had an issue with Lena and Ethan being together, he actually thought it would help protect Lena from her mother Serafina.

CGI?

"Certain scenes, like when Lena and her cousin Ridley get in a fight, overstay their welcome before becoming awkward displays of CGI."

Were you perhaps talking about the scene with the dining room table spinning? if so, that wasn't CGI! According to IMDB, Director Richard LaGravenese wanted as little green screen as possible. In the Caster holiday dinner sequence, the set was built so that the table would spin with the actors on bolted chairs. The floor beneath the table would also spin, in the opposite direction, with Alice Englert and Emmy Rossum strapped to "parade float" stands. The entire set was built on hydraulics so it could be rocked. On a speed scale of 1 to 10, the actors are spinning at an 8. The sequence took three days to shoot. Lagravenese, a victim of motion sickness, took Dramamine to direct it.

Pretty cool!

Anyways, I liked this movie a lot more as a teen romance because it had substance. Ethan likes reading books like Slaughterhouse Five, and he's decidedly different than his peers at his school due to his interest in reading banned books, and his refusal to join in on the bullying of Lena. Lena was also a strong character and wasn't defined by her relationship. The only thing that bothered me was that it was the "sins" of her ancestor, who used that spell to bring her lover back from the dead, was what made the women in her family turn dark.