I suppose I’ll start with the seemingly obligatory statement: I’m not part of the target audience for Beautiful Creatures. However, that really doesn’t matter because I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. I didn’t exactly enter the theater with excitement though. Having not read the book upon which the film is based by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, or any of its three sequels, I did not know what I was getting myself into. Mostly I was just hoping the film wasn’t a complete train wreck and wouldn’t end up having me wishing I’d gone to see that God-awful looking Safe Haven instead. But, surprisingly, Beautiful Creatures is far more impressive than I could have anticipated.
The premise centers on Gatlin, South Carolina. As Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) begins his junior year of high school he comes upon the mysterious new student Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), niece of Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), who has come to live with her uncle in Gatlin. Despite the town’s ample gossip that Lena and her family are devil worshippers, Ethan soon forms a friendship with Lena. But, as he begins to fall in love with her, he slowly discovers the very supernatural and dangerous elements of Lena’s life and family that greatly challenge the pair’s desire to be together.
What are the film’s key elements to its success, you ask? That’d be its excellent cast and the likability of its characters. Emma Thompson as the bible-toting Mrs. Lincoln is perfect in her role; she seems to relish in the disturbed nature of her character and her moments with Jeremy Irons are some of Beautiful Creatures’ best. They bellow and attack their dialogue with such aggression and skill as if they were performing Shakespeare. It’s magnificent to watch. Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan and Alice Englert as Lena are enjoyable together. They have significant chemistry and play up the comedic portions of the screenplay well. It’s the sweet, old-fashioned, and mature way in which their teenage relationship grows that gives Beautiful Creatures its biggest weight.
Emmy Rossum as Lena’s sexy, nasty and psychotic cousin, Ridley Duchannes and Viola Davis as the intelligent and supportive librarian Amma, both add their acting chops to the mix with positive results. Truly every performer here embraces both the seriousness and absurdity of the plot with uncommon vitality.
Beautiful Creatures’ ads seem to be aiming for a young, female audience and in doing so, they make the film look like schmaltzy, sparkly crap. The film is far from that though. It boasts an intriguing premise, a clever script and a set of polished performances from its cast, with substantial harmony from its two leads. The extreme familiarity of the “small town blues” theme becomes irritating fast and the heavy, stereotypical southern accents accompanied by extreme ignorance may be a bit much for some to handle, but once the crux of the story takes hold, those issues and their display become marginal. The plot then becomes strictly about Ethan and Lena.
Considering the dismal box office numbers the movie has acquired in the past week, the likelihood of the book’s sequels getting the silver screen treatment as well is not terribly great. Either way, as a standalone tale, Beautiful Creatures is a pleasant and memorable presentation of some very likable characters and the stupendous lengths they go to for love. It’s not great; it’s not an instant classic; but it is a very good film, populated with characters you can easily get invested in. It’s a refreshingly told, gentle love story that benefits greatly from actually being not at all what you think it’d be.