‘Beautiful Creatures’ elevates tween genre with nuanced plot
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 13:02
The trend of post-apocalyptic, tween-targeted, blood-sucking movie romances based on books had been exhausted, until “Beautiful Creatures” resuscitated the emerging genre if only for a brief two-hour-long film.
Told from the perspective of sensitive but sexy southern gentleman Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) who — between periodic brooding and reading classic literature — gains an interest in the new girl in town, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert). Ethan learns that Lena is part of the Ravenwood clan, an infamous shut-in family in the story’s fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina.
After repeated attempts to get to know reclusive Lena, Ethan discovers that she is “not like everybody else” since her family members are “casters,” a not-so-clever attempt to reinvent the words “witch” and “wizard.” More shocking still, Lena has a tattoo on her wrist that counts down the days until she and her magical powers will be “claimed” for either good or evil.
Although the story is less than original, the nuances to the storytelling and plot make this young adult fantasy stand out in an over-saturated market. From the inclusion of Civil War reenactment culture to the commentary about religious extremism through the preacher’s wife (Emma Thompson), it is the details that round out “Beautiful Creatures.” Additionally, plot twists like mistaken identity, self-sacrifice, and an actually tumultuous teen relationship are refreshing to see.
More than anything, the relatable characters pull the audience in by going beyond the cliched angst of adolescence. Whether it’s Lena’s inhibitions to let others in or Ethan’s restless attempts against all odds to leave behind his “podunk” hometown, audiences of all ages can relate to the characters’ strife — if maybe not the spell casting and tornadoes that happen at Thanksgiving dinner.
It was a bold choice to cast two Hollywood newcomers in a major blockbuster film, but Ehrenreich and Englert effortlessly rise to the challenge. Ehrenreich has his own acting company and Englert comes from a family of renowned filmmakers — her mother Jane Campion has won both an Academy Award and the Palme D’Or. The two have the believable onscreen chemistry of much more experienced actors, nailing the intricacies and awkwardness of the cliche teen dating game. Not to mention, for once two actors who are supposed to be high schoolers almost pass as believable 17-year-olds.
The stars’ apparent youth is one of the few scenes in the film that doesn’t feature some special effects. Although they aren’t as impressive as other box-office hits built around CGI, the spectral apparitions and bewitching natural disasters of “Beautiful Creatures” shouldn’t be underestimated.
But the real magic comes to light during the opening credits when the long list of stars in the film rolls across the screen. Never has a fantasy chick flick boasted stars such as Oscar winners Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, Academy Award nominated Viola Davis and Golden Globe nominee Emmy Rossum — each of whom brings dimension to their role and to the film overall.
Thompson brings to life an iconic villainess in more ways than one, and is a great foil to Irons, playing Lena’s uncle Macon who must overcome his temptations for the dark side. Although Davis is relegated to maid’s duties (not so original) and back alley voodoo (a bit more unique but no less offensive), her supporting performance, as well as Rossum’s seductive temptress, fluidly advances the plot.
The release of “Beautiful Creatures” on Valentine’s Day is no mistake since, after all, it is a cliche袠date movie meant for pre-teens and young adults, at best. Nevertheless, it is definitely one to consider when making plans for your V-Day weekend.