By: Paul Zecharia | www.stonesdetroit.com
Well folks, we once again have another film that’s apparently trying to cash in on the success of the dreaded Twilight series. It’s Beautiful Creatures, based on the first installment of the Caster Chronicles novels written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Writer and director Richard LaGravenese brings us a film that’s way to filled with way too much story and details regarding the world of witches, or “Casters”, living in the South. There’s a heavy amount of campiness incorporated into the film’s style and setting, especially with some incredibly over-the-top performances. Much like Twilight and more recently, Warm Bodies, this film is also based on a book about a supernatural romance. And while I still stand by my statement that Warm Bodies was everything that Twilight should have been, Beautiful Creatures is more like Twilight on ecstasy. The cast has a lot of energy, but not much charisma. The writing is stronger, but way too cheesy. The plot is big, but stuffed with too many overwhelming details. And at times, it suffers from some incredibly annoying moments. Given that this is based on a series of Young Adult novels, it’s more than likely than this will definitely appeal to that demographic, particularly females.
In the fictional small and extremely conservative town of Gatlin, South Carolina, a hopeless romantic named Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) fantasizes about his dream girl. He lives with his nanny Amma (Viola Davis) and enjoys reading banned books, hanging out with his friend Link (Thomas Mann) and yearns for leaving the small-town life for college. As he enters his junior year of high school, he meets a new student named Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), whose family actually founded the town but have now been shunned for being devil worshippers. He immediately starts falling for her, but the town starts getting paranoid and superstitious about the girl and her family after some strange activities. Lena’s also under protection from her family patriarch Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) and he forbids them from seeing each other. She also has some other crazy relatives including Sarafine, taking over the soul of Ethan’s friend’s mother Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson) and her estranged and evil cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum). Ethan starts learning about Lena’s world of magic, spells, and their history. He also learns that when a caster turns sixteen years old, specifically Lena in this case, it is determined whether or not she’ll join the dark side or stay on the light. Lena could become dark and evil just like her mother and cousin, or stay on the light side and stay with Ethan. But Ethan wants her no matter what.
To be fair, the world and history of the casters is quite interesting. There are even some flashbacks of them during the Civil War which makes for a good backstory for the characters. However, these performances are just half-decent. Since Beautiful Creatures takes place in the South, this leads to some of the most annoying and overdone Southern accents ever. It’s especially sad seeing Thompson and Irons go so over-the-top. Also, Irons’s Southern accent is horrible. Ehrenreich and Englert do have chemistry and seem rather cute together, but their relationship is built on a lot of pop culture references and some really cringeworthy lines (“Can you insult me in the car? It’s getting all Titanic out here!” “I must’ve missed the exit to fascinating.” “Satan has nothing to do with his, right?”). I’d also like to point out that Englert looks like a less hotter version of Rooney Mara. Davis seems to be the only actor in control of her role. She’s not over-the-top or boring, but she can definitely hold it together. Now if anybody definitely deserves the title of scene-stealer, it’s Rossum. She steps in with her delightfully menacing attitude and sexy attire and is definitely worth the price of admission alone.
Maybe it was too cheesy for my taste. It reminded me a lot of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows; too much plot and hamminess in a gothic setting with supernatural elements. Not only does it overload on story and hammy performances, but some really horrible special effects. Particularly with a scene where Lena and Ridley have showdown at dinner as they levitate while the room spins around the dinner table. Another bothersome element we have to deal with is the always popular cliche of superstitious and conservative Christian townsfolk. The only job of some of these annoying side characters is just trying to force Jesus everywhere and it makes the Christian in me annoyed. I understand that they have to convey the themes of prejudice, but when you have a scene where two girls in a classroom are chanting hymns making Lena go away, it easily gets on my nerves. Even though the actors are beautiful, many of the performances are not restrained to subtlety and control. While it tries to fixate on the plot, it suffers from corny dialogue and an overabundance of camp. While it tries to be both light-hearted and dark, it’s also steering away from a tone. It’s not that I think Beautiful Creatures is a terrible film, but it seriously needed more focus on the premise and a better tone to convey.
Two out of five stars.
Beautiful Creatures is rated PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material.
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