An unexpectedly considered and atmospheric film, Beautiful Creatures avoids slipping into enough of the supernatural genre clichés to warrant attention though the teenagers it is designed for may feel a little bored by all the talking. In an isolated Southern town 17 year old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich,lively) has been dreaming of a girl he’s never met when all of a sudden she shows up. It transpires Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) is the niece of Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons, struggling with his accent) who lives in the big old overgrown estate where nobody goes. Yet Ethan falls in love with her despite the fact she causes windows to shatter and her uncle’s idea of a welcome is dangerously disorientating. From this initially unpromising premise grows a film that keeps you interested across two hours by employing some wit, unusual set pieces and a dilemma for our heroine.
The dialogue is especially good poking some fun at the small town mentality and flecked with snappy lines while making the two teenage protagonists behave believably. Pleasingly the film maintains this angle throughout, later offering some attempts to contrast the behavior of mortals and the `Castors` with powers. The situation is a far better take on forbidden love than Twilight’s comparatively mushy, sluggish attempts. To ensure she does not become a dark cantor, Lena has to forsake Ethan and it is handled originally. As Lena, Alice Englert strikes the right balance for Lena’s conflicting emotions whole remaining an intriguing character. Her chemistry with Ehrenreich is excellent. Viola Davis as Amma, a family friend of Ethan’s who turns out to know a lot about cantors is also adds much to the latter stages of the film.
It is a shame though that the villains of the piece could not show similar restraint. Emma Thompson works some shock value as the bad mother figure but her gesticulations become distracting at key moments. Emily Rossum, despite a great entrance driving a red car, subsequently throws caution to the wind and is too over the top. The threat posed by both of them is reduced by their antics though luckily there are some superbly creepy visual flourishes to compensate.
The Deep South setting and Civil War history are both evoked strongly with some well-placed religious arguments adding intellectual weight. The film also has its share of intriguing questions not least is why we don’t see Ethan’s father who seems to live in the house but remains off screen and unheard. Inside the old mansion is quite bizarre too especially when it comes to a sequence involving a spinning table. The use of the Cantor’s powers eschews endless pyrotechnics to appear more natural and suits the tone of the rest of the film. At times they seem a little too powerful which makes you wonder why they go to the trouble of a lot of subterfuge. .
While there is no lengthy FX climax, the fact that the end relies on the character points already established adds a depth that you would not expect from this sort of film. Beautiful Creatures is a little over long and sometimes seems over played but has an intellectual rigour, strong characters and sense of place to carry it through.
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