Based on first novel in the best selling series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Beautiful Creatures is a supernatural tale of star crossed lovers dealing with loss, persecution, coming of age and the burdens that go with it. The story commences with Ethan (Aiden Ehrenreich) narrating a recurring dream in which he sees a faceless girl to whom he has an unparalleled attraction, but feels that reaching her will have terrible consequences.
This girl becomes personified by town newcomer Lena (Alice Englert), and the two bond over a mutual love of banned literacy. Events take a sinister turn when it is revealed Lena is a caster (witch to us mortals) and that the tattoo on her hand is counting down the days until her sixteenth birthday when she will be either claimed for the light or the dark, however a family curse and the pair’s uncontrollable love make the latter seem inevitable.
The story is set in Gatlan, a small town in the Deep South that is almost entirely populated by god-fearing superstitious civil war re-enactors, and home to the more denim then a national hoedown. With little else to do the couple’s relationship develops at an astonishing rate, much to the despair of their respective families and friends, tumbling towards the fate atoned to in the opening scenes.
This is director Richard La Gravenese’s first trip behind the camera since 2007s P.S. I love you and it is not a wholly unsuccessful one. The lead actors, though relatively unknown, give charming performances whilst veterans Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson steal the show with their equally camp portrayals of Lena’s devilish Uncle Macon and bible thumping Mrs Lincoln, who isn’t all she seems, the beautiful Emmy Rossum also deserves a mention for her villainous turn as Ridley Duchannes, a caster already claimed for the dark intent on seeing cousin Lena go the same way. Beautiful Creatures is very much focussed on the here and now, rather than keeping one eye on the sequel, while the luscious gothic scenery and eye catching costumes keep the viewer visually stimulated.
The first half draws you in with its interesting premise and fast pace, there is a particularly delightful scene involving Ethan, Macon and an uncomfortable realisation of destiny, however the second half has a tendency to dawdle and, whilst the conclusion is somewhat satisfying, full potential is never quite reached, leaving us feeling entertained but a little disappointed. There is an interesting witch hunt subplot that doesn’t get fully explored, and a lack of real credibility to the relationship which could be attributed to an inability to relate to the characters.
It is hard to judge without making Twilight comparisons so we might as well get them out in the open. From the start the foundations are very similar however the differences do become apparent. Beautiful creatures is more fun than its predecessor, the supernatural roles are switched and there is no ‘will they won’t they’ conundrum – they most certainly will and probably already have. This less chaste approach is refreshing and removes the criticism that Twilight faced for its pro-abstinence approach, although somehow this manages to remove the tension that made Twilight so popular in the first place, and the challenges facing the lovers seem less catastrophic in comparison.
Overall Beautiful Creatures is easy to watch and unfortunately easy to forget, whilst there are some promising aspects the story never quite gets us hooked and its poor opening box office performance is probably a reflection on its lack of ability to cement a target audience. The similarities with Twilight mean it should fill a void now the franchise is finished, however the differences could alienate the very same group they aim to attract, whilst the rest of the world strive to avoid it by association.