Beautiful Creatures may hold you in its spell
A new film based on a series of YA novels hits the big screen, but will it bewitch audiences enough to become the next ‘Twilight’?
With the success of the Twilight franchise and The Hunger Games, it’s not surprising that studios are looking for more YA novel series to bring to the big screen. With a built-in fan base and ready-made sequels, it’s hard to argue with that reasoning … at least on a monetary basis. The question is: which novels will make a successful series of films, both artistically and financially? Looming on the horizon is the first film in Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s proposed trilogy, The Host.
Until then, YA fans should be lining up to see Beautiful Creatures, the first film based on the first of four novels by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The story focuses on the perhaps doomed relationship of Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a small town (very small town) southern high schooler, and Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the new girl in town whose uncle has a reputation for being … reclusive in his creepy old plantation home. The town of Gatlin, South Carolina can best be described as ultra-conservative, a town that has more books banned from the library than they have on the shelves. Ethan, the rebel, likes to read all of those forbidden books and dreams of a way out of his sleepy, Civil War re-enacting town.
Lena’s arrival, complete with rumors of witchcraft surrounding her, only intrigues Ethan (who had been having dreams of a mysterious girl for months), cementing his break-up with his chaste girlfriend and leading him down a road that he probably was not expecting … especially when he learns that the rumors about Lena and her family aren’t entirely false, even though they prefer the term Caster to witch. As a romance develops, life gets complicated as Lena reveals that on her sixteenth birthday, her true nature will be revealed: she will either become a Light Caster or a Dark Caster, and darkness runs in her family. Unfortunately, love with a mortal only complicates the matter and Lena has to make some major decisions before the moon rises on her birthday.
I have not read the novel upon which the film is based, so I can’t say how closely the film follows the plot of the first book in the series, but coming into it with fresh eyes, I found the film to be mostly enjoyable. Director Richard LaGravanese (The Fisher King) has created a very realistic world in which to set the story. The town of Gatlin certain has the look and feel of a real, small southern town so that helps ground some of the more fantastical elements of the story. It also has enough mystery to carry a series of movies if this one is successful (but it works as a stand-alone story as well).
The casting of the main roles helps the film rise above the mundane as well. Ehrenreich, a native Californian, turns on the southern charm, making Ethan all the more endearing. Englert, unfortunately, is saddled with being a mopey teenager for much of the film, but she does get to show some range of emotions when called upon to do so (she’s no Bella clone, thankfully). While the two leads are pleasant enough, the real talent is in the supporting cast: Viola Davis as Amma, the family friend who takes care of Ethan and his reclusive father; Jeremy Irons as Macon Ravenwood, Lena’s uncle; Emmy Rossum as Lena’s cousin Ridley; and Emma Thompson, who gets a chance to chew up the scenery as the Bible-thumping Mrs. Lincoln who unwittingly becomes a vessel for the spirit of Lena’s Dark Caster mother Sarafine. Davis has the juiciest role when her true nature and her place in Ethan’s life are revealed, and there is one moment in the film where LaGravanese focuses on her face to get a reaction shot that hits you with more emotion than could ever be said with words. While Davis is great, the film really could have used more Rossum and Thompson. The whole film crackles with energy whenever they’re on screen and you just want more of them when they’re gone.
While the film does succeed in staying grounded in a sort of reality, there was one scene that almost tipped the film over into camp territory — the Ravenwood family dinner scene. While Macon has a tendency for somewhat flamboyant dress, Lena’s aunt and Gramma almost seem to have come from a parody of The Hunger Games. Aunt Del has a huge white wig and Gramma has lavender-tinted hair, and both have more than enough makeup on. Once the battle between Lena and Ridley starts, the whole scene looks like a ride at Disney World. The scene looked cheesy in the trailer, and it came off as even more cheesy in the movie.
Overall, fans of the novel should be happy with the film, and even if you’ve never read the books the film is very entertaining. It does have an ending that could serve as a stand-alone film, so don’t worry about a major cliffhanger, but there are certainly a few questions left to be answered in future installments, such as what happened to Ethan’s mother, what is her connection to Macon, could Ethan be a half-Caster, will his father ever come out of the bedroom, and which way did Lena really turn? That point is really left up to the audience with the film’s final image (kind of like that spinning top in Inception). Beautiful Creatures lives up to its name with an attractive cast that should bewitch movie audiences enough to continue the series for several years to come.