'Beautiful Creatures' not a 'Twilight' clone
I've observed many people disdainfully comparing "Beautiful Creatures" to "Twilight." I was inclined to agree. However, I found that while both are about a teenage romance with supernatural elements, beyond that the two are completely different. The biggest difference is "Twilight" is a vapid, morally questionable piece of smut, whereas "Beautiful Creatures" is pretty good.
The story takes place in a deadbeat, heavily Christian town in South Carolina where Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is a defiant high school junior who just wants out. One day he meets and falls for Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) who happens to belong to a family of witches, or as they prefers, casters. She is approaching her 16th birthday, upon which she will be claimed for light or darkness. The story is pretty complicated, with new characters and stipulation constantly being introduced. It's not the most original plot, I think I've seen every element somewhere else, but as a whole it's interesting enough and contains several strong characters. The writing is pretty solid, with intelligent exposition and surprisingly sharp dialogue.
What makes "Beautiful Creatures" work is the central dynamic between Ethan and Lena. Their relationship makes sense. It's developed with the right pace and doesn't try to force the idea of true love at 16 down our throats. Not to say that idea isn't present, but for once it's actually believable. Ehrenreich and Englert have a good amount of chemistry and get absorbed in their characters. While they're good, the show stealers are Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson as Lena's uncle and mother respectively. The two of them are best known for high-class, sophisticated roles. Here they get to play sinister, maniacal sorcerers, and they're clearly having the time of their lives. Emmy Rossum and Viola Davis also appear, giving equally enjoyable performances.
Where "Beautiful Creatures" falls flat are the scenes involving magic. The effects aren't great, and you can tell the film tries to work itself around showing actual spells on screen. One of the unfortunate results is an underwhelming climax. The art direction is good at creating a small southern town, but again, the supernatural scenes look clichÃ© and uninspired. My other nitpicks would be the logic and rules established by the film for its universe become a little jumbled and twisted towards the end. And the anti-conservative Christian message, as enjoyable and righteous as it is, is hammered down a bit too hard.
One very important thing to remember about "Beautiful Creatures" is that it's made for and marketed to adolescent girls. My observations have taught me pre-teen and teenage girls have the worst cinematic taste, and movies made for them tend to be garbage. If we were to sort and rank films based on target demographic, "Beautiful Creatures" is practically their "Citizen Kane." And I was thoroughly impressed with how it handled itself. It didn't pander with sex appeal, it didn't water the story down and it had a sense of fun but ultimately took itself seriously. Stephenie Meyer and Melissa Rosenberg, take notice because this is how it's done.
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