The supernatural and the teen romance flick mash up seem to be the go to formula for Hollywood anymore. Just put two star crossed lovers in a situation where their love is forbidden because one is mortal and the other is either a vampire, werewolf, zombie or in this case, a witch and POOF!, you have a bonafied hit. This of course has met with little critical success but those love sick teens out there eat this stuff up. Preying on the lack of a critical mind from their core audience, most filmmakers that produce this type of fluff don't usually put too much effort into thinking about the how's and the why's and instead focus on the who's and the where's. Well for director Richard LaGravenese's new film "Beautiful Creatures", he follows that theology to near perfection, flaws and all.
Things start off simple enough, we meet a young teenage boy named Ethan Waite (Alden Ehrenreich) who yearns to leave his hometown of Gatlin South Carolina. His dreams as of late however have not been about leaving, but instead been filled with visions of this unknown girl. Then almost serendipitously there is a new girl that comes to town, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) who resembles the figure that has been haunting his dreams. Lena is new in town but she is currently residing with her uncle and town shut-in Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) which immediately labels her as the town freak. Ethan, instantly smitten by her, takes it upon himself to get to know her a little better and over time the two form a bond that is both eternal and forbidden. Soon Ethan learns that there is much more to Lena and her family than he could have ever imagined.
This is a story that doesn't really need to be explained by this point. You know exactly the course of events that leads to the films ultimate conclusion. It is a road filled with obstacles trying to keep them apart and the more they try to fight against these opposing forces the more likely it is that one or both will eventually get hurt. So they must make a hard decision that will separate them but in the end their love proves too strong and they still find a way to be together. The particulars on how they get there may be a little different due to these being witches (or Casters as they like to be called), but there is little doubt that most fans of these types of films will be surprised at anything that transpires here.
That leaves the content itself and the actors in these very familiar roles to carry the weight on their shoulders to help make any of it work. For the most part the casting here is superb. By bringing on such talented and seasoned veteran actors as Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson and Viola Davis, it lends a certain credibility to the film that others like this usually lack. Thompson in particular seems to being going for broke as the church going mother who often times finds herself possessed by Lena's evil mother. The first time we see Thompson possessed in church is such an over the top performance that it almost feels out of place amongst all these other actors who have been playing it fairly straight up to that point. While she tones it down as the film progresses, her performance is a definitely highlight of the otherwise droll and boring plotting.
Irons and Davis are saddled with the straight man roles where they must play everything as completely serious, but their presence in this lukewarm love story still raises the bar for this type of film. The rest of the cast is a well rounded assortment of youth, some with this being their first big role such as Ehrenreich and Englert and others a little more experienced such as Emmy Rossum. Rossum also gets free reign to camp it up as much as possible playing Lena's evil cousin Ridley. Just about the only negative thing that can be said about her is how few scenes she has compared to everyone else. But with this being a story of two young teens finding love for the first time, the success of the film is mostly reliant on them.
For the most part, both Ehrenreich and Englert make for a sweet enough on screen couple. Their chemistry with one another feels right and while you might not feel overly concerned about their well being or connected to them in any meaningful way, the film earns enough good will that with their natural charisma together you still hope they end up together by the end. Despite these many positives, there is sadly an assortment of issues that keep it from aspiring to its true potential. Issues that could have and should have been addressed but where left unattended by filmmakers who were clearly more concerned with this drastically underdeveloped storyline concerning a curse and its impact on our teen couple, it became lost and unimportant.
The world of "Beautiful Creatures" is sort of explained piece by piece but never truly explored in great enough detail to make us feel comfortable enough to just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. We learn early on that Lena and her uncle Macon are witches. That Lena is about to turn 16 and when she does she must participate in a ritual called The Claiming where every witch that comes of age must be claimed by either the light or dark side. We learn when someone is claimed, their personality changes regardless of who they were before. We learn that while male caster's can freely choose which one they want to be, female caster's are stuck with whichever claims them. That much is fairly up front and clear, but what isn't too clear is when we learn about this supposed curse.
Other than knowing that at some point way back during the Civil War there was a young female caster who fell in love with a mortal and upon his death attempted to call upon dark powers to bring him back which then in turned her into a super evil caster, there is no real connection between what happened to that woman and Lena's predictament. Apparently she has been chosen by some unknown force to be the next female caster to have this occur to her...or something. This is when things really start to fall apart and threaten to lose anyone who has been able to keep up to this point.
Why her, why Lena? Why not her mother before her or her cousin? Is is because she randomly chose to love a mortal? What if she met and fell in love with a mortal AFTER turning 16? Since this appears to be a concern mainly because of her upcoming claiming, why not wait until after and then hook up with Ethan? Is this because of that random pendant Ethan found and gave to Lena? Did that set them down this path? Why did Lena's mother and cousin want her to become super evil so badly? What benefit did they get out of it? When she becomes super evil who benefits from it exactly? What will she do with the power? Will she cover the planet in darkness? None of these questions are ever addressed in any fashion. All we ever know is that this incident happened back during the Civil War and now there are people TRYING (really hard mind you), to make it happen again now. How exactly does that conspire to make a curse when people are actively trying to make it happen?
Then you also have the dreaded pitfall of how uninteresting this world actually is. Aside from a few moments here and there, you would be hard pressed to realize these people are in fact supernatural beings. They play a couple parlor tricks, spin a table, mind control people (that gets used a lot actually) and generally just like to make their eyes glow so that we know they have powers. The film feels restrained in the worse possible way, like you know there is the possibility for some really cool stuff around every corner but everyone is holding back their hand in hopes of the right opportunity to show off. But the problem is that never happens. Even the grand finale where things finally start to pick up is more or less a cop out and dies down faster than it began.
So, what does any of this mean in the long run? It means that for as hard as "Beautiful Creatures" tries to be different from those other supernatural teen romance flicks and improve upon the formula, it's successes such as some interesting characters, a neat premise and a stellar cast are wasted in the face of poor writing and a plot that ultimately doesn't really matter. This is not the worst example of this type of film formula but it also isn't the best. It has found its own sort of middle ground to rest in that makes it tolerable but completely devoid of any real stand out qualities. If you really must see a movie of this type in theaters, then by all means check it out, otherwise just wait for when it hits home video.