Beautiful Creatures (2013)
Although typically knowledgeable concerning new movies releases I admittedly had not encountered much regarding the film ‘Beautiful Creatures’. I did recall a 2000 thriller of the same name featuring Rachel Weisz but I realized the two movies held nothing in common except for the title. THz e recent movie was an adaptation of a populate youthfully targeted series of novels by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl initiating a series of books collectively referred to as ‘The Caster Chronicles’ set deep in that portion of the country below the Mason-Dixon line. I may have prematurely dismissed it as yet another example of supernatural teen romance novels that have recently flooded the youth section of book stores both online and of the quaint brick and mortar variety. Being a lifelong proponent of literary incentives once aware of the franchise I did look forward to the opportunity to review what the opening film of the series cinematic representation is hopefully. Upon reading through the cast fir this opus I was sufficiently impressed to highly anticipate my first viewing; I was not disappointed in the least.
First off the opening act of the movie is pleasantly deceptive giving the impression that this story was going to unfold as a romantic drama set in a reality grounded familiar setting of a bucolic small town. This turned out to be a brilliant strategy on the part of the original author’s conceptualization of the scaffold that will eventually support the entire story. In similarly theme franchises like ‘The Twilight Saga’ or the geographically more on point ‘True Blood’ series where the supernatural elements that are defined in the constructs of the story’s universe rapidly over took the fundamental look and feel of the story. After observing myself being inexorably drawn into the story by how relatable the characters and circumstances were by the time the supernatural aspects were introduced I found myself already emotionally invested in the story. The infusion of magic, the occult and a culture of powerful supernatural beings did not seem to be as hackneyed as the overuse of these tactics have become. ‘Beautiful Creatures’ had been established as a story intrinsically concerned with the emotional and psychological motivations that at inherently part of that which is humanity. For all their amazing supernatural abilities the conjurers, as they are collectively known are subject to the same desires, goals and motivations as the mortals, the story’s internal name for regular humanity.
The setting for the story is the small, tight knit community of Gatlin, South Carolina. Not uncommon for such small Southern towns much of the property and infrastructure is controlled or owned outright by a single family, the Ravenwood’s represented by the current scion, Macon (Jeremy Irons). As is also common in communities were in inhabitants have the propensity to be born, live their entire lives and die within a circle of a matter of miles. As a direct, engrained reason the appearance of a fresh face is a cause for rumor, conjecture and flights of wide imagination. When the newly arrived person just happens to be a close relative of the town’s founder then the gossip mills go into high gear. This is the backstory of the main female protagonist here, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) In accordance with family tradition Lena has returned to the family homestead to celebrate her upcoming sixteenth birthday. To those sharp of eye you might notice Lena has a tattoo of numbers on her wrists, changing in a countdown to her big day. There is immediate chemistry between her and a local high school athletic icon, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich). The teen appropriate flirtation progresses as smoothly and routinely as any slice of life young romance. Like the old proverb about slowly turning up the heat boiling an unsuspecting frog, the audience is well vested in the burgeoning relationship before the mystical aspects are fully integrated into the plot line.
By the time the two actually meet they have been familiar with each other due to a series of recurring dreams featuring each other. The writers rapidly establishes Ethan is not your typical jock thanks to his prediction for reading selections from the lengthy list of literary works banned by the god fearing, ultraconservative community. One of his favorite books was Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughter House Five’ admiring Billy Pilgrim’s nature of being unstuck in time, traveling through time and space. This is in sharp contrast to the fate of the majority of Gatlin’s residents consigned to stay within the tow’s limits. It also demonstrates a level of literacy and romanticism not commonly associated with the small town jock. Lena as a fan of poetry finds herself mutually attracted to the young man. predictably their families are both adamantly opposed to the budding romance, albeit not for the familiar star cross lovers scenario that dominates the genre, it comes down to Ethan is a mortal and Lena is a Casters, from an unusually powerful line of magically endowed entities. There is a tradition among casters than when a girl reaches her sixteenth birthday a choice between the light and dark must be made. In Lena’s family there is a curse dating back to the civil war skewing the decision towards the dark.
The previous young caster of the family demonstrating this curse was Lena’s hedonistic and powerful cousin, Ridley Duchannes (Emmy Rossum), in town to make certain Lena follows the tradition. Uncle Macon is usually a dark practitioner but has put aside his affiliation to assist Lena through this difficult period. The birthday happens to fall close to a Caster observance giving other family members an excuse to be there; most importantly Lena’s deliciously diabolical mother, Sarafine (Emma Thompson) cloaked to humans in the body of a town stalwart Mrs. Lincoln. It seems the only one overtly on the side of the young lovers is the town’s librarian Amma (Viola Davis) who conveniently is part of the supernatural faction albeit not one overtly empowered, a Seer, the hereditary protector of the Caster’s ancient achieves currently housed beneath the township. She offers the requisite mystical research materials for Lena to try to discover the etiology of the family curse with a hope of uncovering a remedy. It all dates back to a local battle in the ‘War of Northern Aggression’, the Battle of Honey Hill and the town’s traditional reenactment which fall’s on Lena’s 16th birthday.
The director, Richard LaGravenese is still in the process of defining his cinematic style but is definitely on the right track; supposedly he has a preference to minimize CGI use in favor of the traditional practical effects approach. This does demonstrate an unusual yet welcomed return to the ingenuity required pulling off actual effect on a sound stage, the results are intriguing and while inherently somewhat tamer than modern audience expects. The cumulative result is to enhance the sense of reality that had been infused in the movie from the start. The filmmaker’s overall success here is a supernatural romance that while encompassing the elements we’ve come to want also includes the look and feel that defines the venerable gothic horror story. This is not what you might expect but you will discover that is a major reason to enjoy it. I hope they continue on with this franchise.