I spent a bunch of time in January and February hemming and hawing over whether I should read Beautiful Creatures before I ventured out to see the film. Beautiful Creatures is based on the young adult novel of the same name, written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. After careful consideration I decided to see the movie first because I knew that I wanted to write a review of it, and I didn’t want said review to turn into a comparison essay between two pieces which should theoretically be viewed as separate entities. For what it is, Beautiful Creatures is an entertaining and intriguing film. Just to preface that statement, I am in no way trying to demean the film by phrasing my overall opinion with the “for what it is,” disclaimer. I have no shame in admitting that I have quite the soft spot for young adult fiction and films (sans Twilight, ugh, which I won’t even begin to rant about here), but let’s face it, when someone chooses to attend a film in that genre, they’re not expecting to see the next Annie Hall.
It is however, pleasantly surprising to see how well the film conveys the good versus evil theme. Lena (played by Alice Englert), a castor, has recently relocated to live with her Uncle Macon in Gatlin, Georgia just before her sixteenth birthday when it will be revealed during a ritual whether she will be claimed by the light or the darkness. There is a constant struggle throughout the story in which Lena flip flops from the light side to the dark side. Lena is not inherently good or inherently evil, instead she rests somewhere in the morally grey area, which affords her character to be more relatable (especially to us mortals). As much as humans would love for everything to have a black and white definition of what constitutes good and what should be condemned as evil, it is an unrealistic expectation, and there are always outside circumstances that influence an individual’s decision-making process.
Another major factor that contributes to Lena’s inability to control her emotions and her powers, is her love of Ethan Wate (played by Alden Ehrenreich). Ethan has lived in the small sheltered town of Gatlin for his entire life but he has been itching to get out, that is, until Lena shows up. (Side note: One of the best lines in the film is when Ethan’s bitterly overbearing ex-girlfriend tells him that she prays he doesn’t go straight to hell. Ethan’s response is “Oh I won’t go straight to hell. I’m going to stop in New York first.”) But alas, the exposition between the pairs love affair is slightly lacking and the viewer is expected to accept the concept of destiny in order to understand how their relationship develops so quickly.
The standout performances in the film are by Jeremy Irons, who plays Uncle Macon, Emmy Rossum, Lena’s cousin Ridley that was claimed by the darkness upon her sixteenth birthday, and Emma Thompson, Macon’s sister and Lena’s mother who is another dark castor.
The scenery is delightful to view, and there were several shots, and costume choices that seemed to be inspired by The Craft. Between the woods, Macon’s luxuriously modern and out of place mansion, and the secret castor library protected by the Seer Amma (Viola Davis), the film has its fair share of pleasurable aesthetics. The ending of the film doesn’t tie everything together which is to be expected since Beautiful Creatures is the first in a series of four books. It was obvious that the filmmakers tried to cram as much information into the first movie as possible (the book is over 400 pages!), but it still seemed as if some pertinent information was missing in areas. This helped affirm my confidence in the decision to read the book post movie because I am now curious to see which parts were cut out, if perhaps the connection between Lena and Ethan is built with a stronger foundation, and what exactly was altered to adapt the book to a film friendly screenplay. If you’re looking for a film that’s a little bit heavier than the typical light entertainment supplied by a supernatural rom-com, but will still satisfy your desire for a guilty pleasure, you should definitely consider seeing Beautiful Creatures.