There’s a glut of books out there for teens into the supernatural. If you walk into a Barnes and Noble you’ll find a section called “Teen Paranormal Romance.” This was all started by Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, but as these books are made into movies they shouldn’t be lumped together. Some are clearly better than others.
Beautiful Creatures is a teen paranormal romance that has been adapted and directed by Richard LaGravenese. The smartest thing he did was populating his film with very good actors. Watching Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, and Emma Thompson flex their muscles is very entertaining. And as for his two unknown leads, they are both very good. Aiden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert, if you squint a bit, will remind you of Leonard DiCaprio and Ellen Page.
Ehrenreich is a smart and popular high school student in a one-horse town in South Carolina. All he wants to do is get out, and reads books banned from the local library. He’s been dreaming about a girl, but he can’t see her face, and he compulsively sketches her.
Turns out the girl is the new girl in town, played by Englert. She’s moved into the creepy Ravenwood mansion. Irons is her uncle, and he lives in the house but hardly ever comes out. The locals think his family is a bunch of Satanists. Ehrenreich is intrigued by Englert, but she is aloof. Finally he wins her over, and they start dating. But there’s some nastiness involving a Civil War era locket.
Englert isn’t a Satanist, but she isn’t normal, as evidenced by the windows in a classroom shattering when she’s being teased by other girls. She’s a “caster” (witch is such a pejorative, like geek). She’s facing a crisis. In just a few days she’ll turn 16, and it will be decided whether she’s “light” or “dark.” Irons is trying to keep her dark mother (Thompson) from influencing the decision.
A lot of this is very silly. Some of it plays like a Tim Burton film of Bewitched. There’s a scene in the middle of the film when Ehrenreich comes to dinner, and the members of the Ravenwood family are all a bunch of oddballs. I expected Uncle Arthur to show up. Some of it is like Harry Potter, what with the rules and curses. Some of it is like True Blood, in that there is this war between casters and mortals, and the whole town seems to be draped in spanish moss. But most of it works and has a sense of originality to it.
Most of the credit goes to the dialogue, and Ehrenreich’s sparkling performance. A lot of it is genuinely funny, such as when he dissects the ending of Titanic. Englert avoids playing the standard sullen girl, and Emmy Rossum shows up as the sexy witch cousin and steals some scenes.
That being said, the film does have some drawbacks. I found the pacing erratic and choppy. And perhaps the book goes deeper into the role of casters in society–if they’re so powerful, why aren’t they running things? And there’s a tunnel running underneath the entire United States that only the casters know about? Riiiiight.
But overall I give Beautiful Creatures a thumbs up, mostly for the acting by the three established stars. Thompson gets to play two roles–her evil witch inhabits the body of the local bible-thumper. Davis, as the town’s librarian, gives a very subtle performance, and is there anybody better at chewing scenery than Jeremy Irons? Maybe Ian McKellen, but it’s close. Watching Irons dress down the locals in a church while wearing an outfit that defies description was worth the price of admission.
My grade for Beautiful Creatures: C+.