- Rated PG-13
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t seems like every movie that’s based on a young adult novel about a supernatural romance is destined to be lazily compared to the “Twilight” series (and there are plenty more to come this year), but in the case of “Beautiful Creatures,” the comparisons are totally valid. This is about as close to a “Twilight” clone that Hollywood has produced since Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson became household names, except this story trades vampires and werewolves for witches. But while the film shows more promise than its spiritual predecessor in the early stages, its overdependence on the love story between its two leads prevents "Beautiful Creatures” from distinguishing itself as anything other than an unfortunate "Twilight" wannabe.
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) has dreams of escaping his small, South Carolina home for bigger and better things, but when a mysterious girl named Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) arrives in town to a wave of hostility from its Bible-thumping residents, he immediately becomes smitten. Though Lena initially ignores Ethan’s advances at the behest of her overprotective uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons), she eventually gives in to his Southern charms. What Ethan doesn’t realize, however, is that Lena is a Caster (a fancy term for witch), and on her 16th birthday, she’ll be “claimed” either for the light or dark side – a process that female Casters have no control over. Ethan is convinced that Lena’s strong spirit will direct her toward the light side, but a family curse dating back to the Civil War suggests that Lena is fated to go dark, and her evil mother Sarafine will do whatever it takes to make sure it happens.
One thing that “Beautiful Creatures” has that “Twilight” didn’t is a pair of likeable leads. The romance here definitely isn’t of the sulking emo variety, and that’s credit not only to author Kami Garcia’s source material, but to relative newcomers Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert, particularly the former, who imbues Ethan with a whimsical, good ol' boy quality that makes him fun to watch. The film also benefits greatly from the prestige that Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson and Viola Davis bring to the project, and while all three actors elevate the material, Thompson is in a class of her own. She’s clearly having a ball hamming it up as the villain, and every time she appears on screen, the film glows.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t save the film from its own inadequacies. Characters drop in and out of the story with no explanation (Emmy Rossum is terribly underused as Lena’s dark Caster cousin) and there’s so much babble about destinies, curses and rules that it becomes a jumbled mess of boring exposition. And even more troubling than that are the special effects, which are so awful that it feels like Warner Bros. was afraid to invest any money in case it flopped. The movie’s unexpectedly goofy sense of humor helps to keep things light, and the actors do a good job with the material they’ve been given, but “Beautiful Creatures” doesn’t feel like it was made by a studio that loved the books, but rather the idea of success that a film adaptation might bring – all business and no soul.