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'Beautiful Creatures' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

By

'Beautiful Creatures' movie poster.
© Warner Bros.
With the Twilight Saga over, movie studios are tripping over themselves trying to find the next young adult book series to adapt and win over the hearts (and wallets) of teens and tweens everywhere. The latest is Beautiful Creatures, the first of the so-called Caster Chronicles novels, which harness the lore of witches, rather than vampires and werewolves, for its supernatural romance.

The Plot

Feeling stuck in the dead-end small town of Gatlin, South Carolina, bookish teen Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) looks forward to the day when he can escape the dull, small-minded locals. He gets a jolt of excitement on the first day of his junior year in high school, however, when a new girl moves to town. He's immediately drawn to Lena (Alice Englert), the niece of reclusive Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), whose mysterious family is rumored to be full of devil worshippers and all sorts of nefarious types.

It turns out the locals are partially correct. The Ravenwoods are witches -- or "casters," as they prefer -- each with their own unique abilities. Ethan discovers this as he breaks down Lena's standoffish exterior and draws her closer to him, much to the chagrin of their classmates. Macon and the other Ravenwoods likewise don't care for the forbidden caster-mortal relationship. They see Ethan as a weakness that can be used to draw Lena to "the Dark" during her upcoming rite of passage, the Claiming, a ceremony on her 16th birthday in which her true nature is revealed to belong to either the Light or the Dark. As forces try to pull her to both sides, Lena must decide whether her love for Ethan is worth putting him at risk from her family and, if she ends up with the Dark, herself.

The End Result

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in 'Beautiful Creatures'.

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in 'Beautiful Creatures'.

Photo: John Bramley © Warner Bros.
It's hard not to compare Beautiful Creatures to Twilight, with their similar young adult literary origins and supernatural interspecies romances, but while the Twilight films are ripe for ridicule due to their stiff performances, stilted dialogue and melodramatic emotions, Beautiful Creatures is a creature of a different sort. The writing is unusually sharp -- not just for a young adult adaptation, but for any cinematic romance, the Ethan-Lena courtship pulsating with a playful charm and palpable chemistry missing from so many big-screen love stories. Richard LaGravenese, with the likes of The Bridges of Madison County, The Horse Whisperer, The Mirror Has Two Faces, P.S. I Love You and Water for Elephants under his belt, has seemingly become the romance screenwriter of choice over the past two decades, and his even-handed, realistic (given the fantastic circumstances) portrayal of the excitement of young, flirtatious love in Beautiful Creatures shows us why he's in such high demand.

When the film shifts from the courting stage into the nitty gritty of the plot, it loses some of its charm, and the protracted climactic battle lacks a punch, but LaGravenese (who also directs) manages to pick up the pieces and cobble together an emotional final scene that, along with a few lingering questions, generates anticipation for the sequel. Whatever little the script lacks is compensated for by the superb cast, particularly the two leads, who convey the sort of emotional depth and likable quirkiness Bella and Edward could only dream of.

From a horror standpoint, Beautiful Creatures is a virtual nonentity, ranking lower on the gore-and-fright scale than similar PG-13 horror romances like Warm Bodies, Blood and Chocolate and frankly, even Twilight. That said, if genre fans put aside their blood-lusting expectations, they might find themselves drawn in by the atypical romantic leads, the liberal-minded cerebral outsiders whom they can perhaps identify as kindred spirits.

The Skinny

  • Acting: B+ (Genuine, emotional, quirky, likable.)
  • Direction: B- (Picturesque but the visuals go a bit more the safe, cartoonish route than the edgier horror route.)
  • Script: B- (Clever, playful dialogue early on gives way to a more standard romance and a weak climax.)
  • Gore/Effects: C (No gore; some good CGI effects, some not so good.)
  • Overall: B- (A surprisingly sharp, witty and heartfelt supernatural romance.)

Beautiful Creatures is directed by Richard LaGravenese and is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for violence, scary images and some sexual material. Release date: February 14, 2013.

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