They always say, “the book is better than the movie,” right? Well if it’s any consolation to Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures, it must be one hell of a book. Not to say the movie is one of the best ever, but it sure was a huge surprise. Writer/director Richard LaGravenese may be hit and miss in the past (his writing-only efforts far outshine his last two directing gigs (Freedom Writers, P.S. I Love You), but he’s definitely found a niche and seems to whole-heartedly love the Garcia/Stohl series. Beautiful Creatures has a lot of plot going on but never feels convoluted. Maybe that’s because at first I was scared of the 124-minute runtime, but when adapting a 600-plus page book, it makes sense to give the characters and machinations time to breathe.
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) has been an outsider in the podunk town of Gatlin, South Carolina, and can’t wait to get out. He’s far too smart for this town, so much so that he almost only reads books that are on the town’s banned list such as A Clockwork Orange and Slaughterhouse Five. He tells his deceased mother’s best friend Amma (Viola Davis) that he’s applied to every college there is so long as they’re as far away from Gatlin as possible. Ethan lives with his never-seen father, although Amma is always helping around the house because she promised his mother she would look after him. Ethan’s best friend Link (Thomas Mann) lives next door with his zealot mother Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson) and has an unrequited love interest at school, Emily Asher (Zoey Deutch), after he broke up with her before summer break.
Before long, a new girl arrives in town by the name Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) with a number “tattooed” on her hand and a penchant for Charles Bukowski. Emily and her BFF Savannah Snow (Tiffany Boone) are positive that Lena worships the devil — she is the niece of the town’s own Boo Radley, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), after all. After the classroom windows explode, the whole town, led by Mrs. Lincoln, set out to have Lena expelled. Thanks to Macon’s family history, along with a few threats to expose some of the town’s dirty little secrets, everything goes back to normal. At least until Lena’s cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum chewing all the scenery she can) shows up.
Meanwhile, Ethan is drawn to Lena, even admitting to have been dreaming about her for weeks, and the two kick up a relationship. Lena finally comes clean with Ethan that she’s a Caster — not a witch, that’s a dirty word only Mortals use. And there’s a subplot involving Lena’s “Claiming” on her 16th birthday (the night of the most powerful solstice in 5,000 years) where she will either become a light or dark caster. Female Casters can’t pick we’re told. Oh, and her mother, Sarafine, has been searching for her too, taking claim to the human form of Mrs. Lincoln. Now, Lena must discover her true identity before the claiming and break a curse placed on her family in 1863 when Genevieve Duchannes (Rachel Brosnahan) used a spell from the Book of Moons to bring her dead fiancé, Ethan Carter Wate (Sam Gilroy), back to life.
Considering they condensed a monster-sized book down into a two hour film makes for a lot of plotting. Thankfully, director LaGravenese has cobbled everything down to streamline the action and keep things full steam ahead to the big finale; something only the other Warner Bros. property, Harry Potter, tried once with Prisoner of Azkaban (coincidentally the best film of the whole series).
Some may try to write off Beautiful Creatures as Harry Potter for the Twilight fans, but the film is way better than that. It has a snarky sense of humor about it, we’re told early in the film that the town of Gatlin is so far behind the times that the film’s playing in theaters are already on video and always misspelled (such as Interception and Finale Destination 6 – the poster outside and clip are clearly from 5). Ehrenreich and Englert make a fantastic onscreen couple, while the adult cast brings some flashy finesse to the proceedings. We also get a killer soundtrack courtesy Thenewno2. I have to admit, I liked this film far more than I ever thought I would; so much so that I’ve actually started reading the books. And if this first film is of any indication, Beautiful Creatures should be the beginning of a fantastic new saga.
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