BEAUTIFUL CREATURES. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, and Jeremy Irons. Directed by Richard Lagravenese. Rated M (Supernatural themes and violence). 124 min.
This is a teenage, supernatural-romance film based upon the 2009 novel of the same name by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It is a film version of the first instalment of the popular four-part series called “The Caster Chronicles”, comprising “Beautiful Creatures”, “Beautiful Darkness”, “Beautiful Chaos”, and “Beautiful Redemption”.
Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) arrives in the small town of Gatlin, set in fictional South Carolina, and immediately attracts the attention of Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who is bored with the dullness of the town and is looking for interest and excitement. The two of them are attracted to each other, but Lena possesses magical powers that have kept her at a distance from other people in her life, and her aloofness makes her unpopular at school.
The romance between them is threatened by Lena’s true identity. She is a Caster, who, on her sixteenth birthday, has to undergo “The Claiming”. The Casters are a race of supernatural beings, who have varying powers to be themselves. Lena is a special type of Caster, with particularly strong powers, and she is a Caster that cannot be united with a Mortal. At sixteen, The Claiming takes over a person by either the Light or Darkness, otherwise known as Good or Evil, and the penalty for uniting with a Mortal is death to the person being loved.
Ethan is the first boy Lena has been attracted to, and to pursue her attraction means that he will die. As the relationship between Ethan and Lena grows, Ethan’s goal is to stop Lena from crossing to the Dark side, and for Lena, her love for Ethan cannot mean his death. Following the novel, the film becomes an intense love story, involving star-crossed teenage lovers. Together, they uncover sinister secrets about each of their families, their personal history, and the town. They find out that their families are linked, and the secrets that come out portend doom for them both. Viola Davis, as Amma, helps Lena and Ethan understand their family history.
There are other Casters around to thwart any good intentions. Emma Thomson is Lena’s mother, Sarafine (and also the town’s bible-thumping Mrs. Lincoln, in disguise), who wants to ensure that Evil finds her daughter on her sixteenth birthday. She is on the dark side, and wants Lena to join her there. Jeremy Irons is Lena’s uncle, Macon Ravenwood, who urges Lena to be her own herself, but who is sacrificed by Lena to remove the curse that dooms Ethan.
Thompson and Irons are high-profile actors who pull the stops out in a complicated story-line, with multiple twists, that sets the stage for three movies to follow. Emma Thompson is deliciously wicked, with an over-the-top Southern drawl, and she plays her role as the evil Sarafine and the bigoted Mrs. Lincoln to a hilt. The special effects are suitably spooky and startling, but surprisingly well-integrated into the fantasy of the plot-line. Ehrenreich and Englert act warmly and affectionately together in attention-getting style as the unlucky lovers, trapped by their dysfunctional families.
The movie as a whole is geared to solid teenage appeal. Strong themes permeate the movie and they are about family, what constitutes good and evil, God creating everyone (including Casters), and about individuals needing to make responsible choices. The level of fantasy, however, dilutes their combined effect, and this movie is not one for finely-tuned moral messages.
This is a well-made, entertaining movie that holds its special effects under control, and caries its tension well. Its “Twilight” allure has specific young-adult appeal. That appeal is perhaps too frightening for the young-ones, and too fanciful for older adults, but it is destined to have a lot of youthful pull for those in between.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and BroadcastingRoadshow Films
Out February 21st. 2013