Beautiful Creatures

Cast:
Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate
Alice Englert as Lena Duchannes
Jeremy Irons as Macon Ravenwood
Viola Davis as Amma
Emmy Rossum as Ridley Duchannes
Thomas Mann as Link
Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lincoln / Sarafine
Eileen Atkins as Gramma
Margo Martindale as Aunt Del
Zoey Deutch as Emily Asher
Tiffany Boone as Savannah Snow
Rachel Brosnahan as Genevieve Duchannes
Kyle Gallner as Larkin Ravenwood
Pruitt Taylor Vince as Mr. Lee
Robin Skye as Mrs. Hester
Randy Redd as Reverend Stephens
Lance E. Nichols as Mayor Snow
Leslie Castay as Principal Herbert
Sam Gilroy as Ethan Carter Wate
Cindy Hogan as Mrs. Asher
Gwendolyn Mulamba as Mrs. Snow

Directed by Richard LaGravenese

Story:
Ethan (Aiden Ehrenreich from “Tetro”) is a happy-go-luck Southern boy from the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina who does an inordinate amount of reading and just as much dreaming particularly about a mysterious girl who one day appears in his classroom. She is Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) who lives in the creepy Ravenwood Manor and Ethan decides to follow her there where he meets her eccentric uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons). It turns out that their entire family is made up of “casters” (i.e. witches) and Lena is in danger of going dark on her 16th birthday if her mother Sarafine (Emma Thompson) has anything to do with it.

Analysis:
Joining the latest wave of young adult novel adaptations is this romantic supernatural drama based on the first book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and mind you, the intended target audience is likely teen and ‘tween girls who get caught up in the idea of love between humans and the supernatural. Even so, is it really too much to expect a filmmaker like Richard LaGravenese, who worked with the likes of Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and Barbra Streisand, would be able to create a movie around this premise that’s at least halfway watchable for anyone who hadn’t read those books?

The introduction of the two young lovers works perfectly fine with Lena facing bullying by her fellow classmates since she lives in the creepy Ravenwood Manor. Ethan one day follows her there where we learn of her uncle’s minimalist decorating sense–the house has a grand piano, a winding staircase and that’s about it–but he also learns Lean’s big secret, that she’s part of a family of “casters” with magical powers and when she turns 16, there’s a chance she’ll turn to black magic like other female casters.

To her credit, Alice Englert is quite good as Lena, coming off like a slightly younger Jennifer Lawrence, and Ehrenreich’s Ethan, who comes off like a member of the cast of MTV’s “Buckwild” when we first meet him, does grow on you once he tones the humor down. The two of them spend much of the movie kissing and making out, which actually gets boring after a while since the romance rarely rises above what we might see on a teen drama television show.

Things take a sharp turn for the worse when we meet Lena’s extended family and the movie turns into a more excruciating version of “Dark Shadows” with a lot of hammy acting from everyone involved, and it’s especially hard to believe that LaGravenese couldn’t get better from Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson who are so ridiculously over-the-top, one wonders if they’re trying to be funny or menacing. They end up being neither. In fact, one may wonder why Sarafine is even needed in the story because she serves very little purpose and the same can be said about Emmy Rossum’s troublesome Ripley, who at least offers some sex appeal.

Everything starts to get even more confusing when we learn that Ethan and Lena’s relatives fell in love during Civil War times and we start seeing flashbacks to those events. There’s also Viola Davis, as Ethan’s caretaker Amma, who not only runs the local library but is a witch known as a Seer herself who knows all about the Ravenwoods, so you’d think she would have warned Ethan about that or something. Instead she allows him to live his whole life in the dark until the third act when the three of them sit in her secret library poring over books to save Lena, killing any momentum created up until that point. At least it leads to a climactic set piece during a Civil War reenactment, but by then the story’s already likely to have lost you.

Even without having read the book, it’s fairly obvious this isn’t a particularly good adaptation since it’s all over the place in terms of tone as LaGravenese tries to fit everything from the book into a reasonable-length movie. Even having a world-class cinematographer like Philippe Rousselot is wasted as every scene seems to have been shot using a different color palette, which means that when scenes are cut together, the colors shifts are jarring. On top of that, the film’s plagued by awful CG effects in trying to show the powers of the “casters,” and if you’re not going to make ay sort of effort to make the magic look believable, then there’s really no point in having magic in the movie in the first place.

The Bottom Line:
As hard as the filmmakers may want to avoid comparisons, “Beautiful Creatures” suffers from the same problems as “Twilight” with LaGravenese trying too make a movie that’s funny, romantic and has some action, but the results are so erratic it’s hard to get into any of it. Essentially, this is another attempt to adapt a young adult novel that fails to justify the adaptation.

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