REVIEW: Beautiful Creatures (2013)

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In a post-Twilight world where best-selling YA novels are being adapted into film franchises every other week, Beautiful Creatures steps into the arena “drooling charm” despite a few inevitable flaws.

Based on the first in the Caster Chronicles series written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the story kicks off in the small country town of Gatlin. It’s about as Deep South as it gets, with To Kill A Mockingbird banned by religious groups and phrases such as “she looks like death eating a cracker” dropped on the daily. Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is a teenager desperate to escape and does so by immersing himself in literature. Enter Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert): the new girl in town and niece of the reclusive yet wealthy Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). Their attraction to each other is immediate and – despite Lena being labelled a Satan-worshipper by the local mean girls – they begin a romance that will change both of their lives forever. Lena comes from a long line of cursed Casters (witches, basically) who get claimed for either Light or Dark on their sixteenth birthday. And guess who’s about to hit the big one-six?

Adapted for the screen and directed by Richard LaGravenese (P.S I Love You), the filmmaker has done a remarkable job of improving the comedy and relatability of the source material. The novel isn’t particularly funny and the characters depicted therein not particularly insightful, but LaGravenese has given us dialogue that leaps off the screen with authenticity. They speak and act like real teenagers in a way that feels Breakfast Club-level good. And God damn it’s funny. From Jane Austen to Nancy Reagan jokes, there are some genuine gut laughs here. The comedy is drawn from both slapstick and cleverly composed verbal barbs that neatly bookend each scene. It’s witty and performed perfectly by the cast, namely Ehrenreich.

When it comes to break out stars it’s all Ehrenreich, Ehrenreich, Ehrenreich. Next to be seen on Australian screens in Stoker and Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, the boy is one to watch. Magnetic and charming, he already feels like a character actor in the making. His lady love Englert is fine, she’s attractive and has that Lily Collins eye-brow thing going on but she isn’t as solid as her co-star. With the exception of Emma Thompson enjoying herself with a spot of OTT craziness, the rest of the superb supporting cast – Viola Davis, Irons, Emmy Rossum, Kyle Gallner – are underused.

To his credit LaGravenese depicts young love as a thing of beauty: the kids are smiling, happy, awkward, excited and fumbling in each other’s presence. It’s a warm experience watching their union, unlike the uncomfortable, breathy and often miserable antics seen in The Twilight Saga. However, ultimately Beautiful Creatures suffers from the same flaws as the book: a convoluted mythology. Drawing on voodoo and ancient ‘magicks’, the rules and restrictions of the lore are unclear which takes some of the gravity out of the drama. While the dialogue might be reminiscent of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (co-author Kami Garcia is a massive fan, even naming her pets Spike and Oz after her love of the series), the supernatural mythos is about as uninspired as Charmed. If as much attention had been paid to the magic lore as the art direction, then perhaps there would have been a meatier outcome. It also would have been nice to see more of the Christian fundamentalists’ antics that appeared in the book. They do have their brief moments in the film, but it’s not explored in-depth which is a shame considering the interesting questions it raises about acceptance and ostracising those who are different.

It’s not Twilight bad and it’s not The Hunger Games good, Beautiful Creatures manages to sit somewhere comfortably in the middle. It concludes in a manner that suggests further films – unlikely given the box-office returns – and perhaps by the second film they can build on what is truly solid foundation. Beautiful Creatures isn’t a perfect popcorn experience – the dialogue bites but the magic fizzles – yet it provides an interesting parable on fate: whether it’s predetermined or if we’re masters of our own destiny.

Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz