There has been much talk about what film or franchise will replace the niche left empty by the ending of the super successful “Twilight” franchise now that the fifth and final film has been released, and while “The Hunger Games” is looking to cash-in on the newly-freed legions of teen girls looking for something to obsess over, it doesn’t have the same supernatural elements that “Twilight” did.
Enter “Beautiful Creatures,” a young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl that is the first book in what is called the “Caster Series.” Published in 2009 with a new book added every year after that, the series has gained a following and the minds over at Warner Bros. Entertainment want to strike while the simmering coals of “Twilight” are still burning in young fans hearts.
With a screenplay adaptation written by the man also directing the film, a lot of faith has been place in the hands of Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You,” “Freedom Writers”) to take the material and make a fun, interesting film to please the masses. Can a novel without quite the same audience garner as much adoration from fans making it a box office success?
Life could not be duller for Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) in the small town of Gatlin, where he has spent his entire life dreaming of escape. As he returns to a new year of high school, he is struggling to recover from the sudden death of his mother while raising himself because his dad is basically comatose with grief. Ethan likes to read all the radical banned books he can find in the Bible-thumping town and the most interesting thing about him is the reoccurring dream he has which involves a battlefield and a beautiful woman whose face he can never see.
On his first day of school, a new student, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), walks in and he is instantly attracted to her. Lather, he is shocked when he learns she the girl from his dreams. It turns out Lena and her family are casters – a term they prefer over witch – and all have powers. Lena is living with her uncle, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), who is a town outcast and shut-in even though he owns most of the town. There are suspicions and rumors of dark magic, devil worshipping and worse about the Ravenwood family.
When Ethan learns the truth about Lena, he doesn’t care and just wants to be with her, but her extended family sees trouble in her loving a “mortal,” specifically because in a few weeks she will reach 16 years-old and she will either have her powers claimed for the light or the dark, depending on her true inner disposition. While the majority of Lena’s family members want her to remain pure and become a beacon of light, there are a few who would love for her immense powers to be claimed for the dark. One of those is her cousin Ridley Duchannes (Emmy Rossum), who was once innocent and then went dark.
Can Ethan possibly help Lena or will their unstable teenage feelings end up driving her to a path she doesn’t want for herself? A few questions remain. Why did he dream of her? Can they be together even though there is a legend of a forbidden love that left a curse on the family? And was his mother’s death somehow connected to this supernatural world and what connection does the local librarian have to all of this?
While the obvious correlation between “Romeo and Juliet” can be seen here, the movie feels like a Shakespearean tale, set in the Victorian age and told through an Edgar Allen Poe filter.
The film looks great, with some amazing scenery and set pieces. Even though it is supposed to take place in South Carolina, it was actually filmed in Louisiana, not far from New Orleans and the history and culture just oozes off the screen.
The chemistry between the two leads could have been better, but in a way it kind of fits the film, Lena is struggling internally with her feelings and because of it she cannot give herself fully to Ethan. I did like the casting for the film and even though there is major talent in the supporting cast, the idea to make the two central figures in the story relative unknowns was a good choice. Instead of thinking about what they have been in, I was able to be in the moment and just watch the movie.
As always, Jeremy Irons is a delight to watch and is very charismatic on screen. Emmy Rossum is as beautiful as ever and it’s nice to see her in a darker role than normal. But two major surprises were Emma Thompson and Viola Davis. Sadly, both had very minor roles, but each one of those roles had a secret dual side which was unveiled during the film, so I won’t give it away.
All told, however, I still felt myself becoming slightly bored. The first half of the film is building up to something, but then the crazy scenes kick-in and all the CGI takes over and floods the film. The different power struggles in the film are nice, but it gets too crazy at times and it all seems to bind the movie’s potential in the end. Also, the film moves at a pretty slow pace and at over two hours long you might be checking your watch towards the end.
I did like the small bits of humor throughout the film, as well as seeing this small town life turned upside down for Ethan when all the supernatural elements come into play, but as a whole I wasn’t impressed and was hoping for more than I ended up getting. While fans of the book series won’t care, outsiders will probably feel bored and not as connected to our characters and their overall fates. While I wouldn’t suggest they continue on with sequels, they probably will and if they do, let’s hope those stories are a bit more interesting and compelling.
In theaters now, “Beautiful Creatures” is rated PG-13 for violence, sexual material and scary images. The film also stars Kyle Gallner, Thomas Mann, Margo Martindale, Eileen Atkins, Zoey Deutch and Randy Redd.
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