February 22, 2013

Beautiful Creatures (2013)

"Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town."

Based on the "acclaimed bestseller" that I've never heard of, "Beautiful Creatures" is yet another bland teen romance meant to fill the gap left by "Twilight". Apparently, it has bombed at the box office, but I decided to watch it anyway because I'm a masochist like that. It's not as if there's anything else related to the horror genre to see right now. We're still over a month away from the "Evil Dead" remake and whatever dubious joys it may bring to the table.

Although "Beautiful Creatures" is overlong, a bit slow, and contains too much exposition instead of action, with a $60,000,000 budget there's plenty to look at this film especially the hot actresses, Alice Englert and Emmy Rossum as Lena Duchannes and Ridley Duchannes respectively. If you're a lot older, even Emma Thompson looks nice with her shoulders bared. I still like her anyway.

Green screen effects were allegedly kept to a minimum with a lot of practical effects such as the changing colours of Macon's living room and the spinning dinner table being highlights. I'm no expert, but I'm certain that a lot more was enhanced afterwards. When it comes to the obligatory magic lightning bolts trickling out of fingertips though, "Beautiful Creatures" doesn't contain the worst examples.

Like theatrical releases should be, it's beautifully filmed, looks the part in nearly every way, and even the CGI is acceptable when it happens. Thus, "Beautiful Creatures" certainly lives up to its title. In other ways, not so much, but I'll come to them by and by.

Hot sexy witch. 'Nuff said.

The biggest problem is that "Beautiful Creatures" really is all about how it looks. The story is too messy, obviously conflated from a piece of literature which must be even more character driven, and is instantly forgettable. In fact, it's rather tedious even if you are into romance. Despite a promising start, it soon becomes "Southern American Cliché: The Movie" with bad accents and every available teen movie trope other than farting for comic effect lifted from something better. At one point, I thought it was going to turn into "Footloose"!

Given the lack of risk taking in Hollywood (or Summit/Lionsgate) at the moment, I almost want to let the lack of originality slide as something which we've all become far too used to, but I can't. Due to the nature of the movies I usually watch, I immediately noticed that the most important plot point about choosing between light and dark borrows heavily from "Night Watch" (2004). There are even moments when the protagonists step into "the gloom" to discuss things or do battle outside the world as perceived by mortals. If that isn't enough to create the stench of plagiarism, the cursed "coming of age" cliché has been done to death by nearly every trendy supernatural drama since the 1970s. Depending on your era, if you've seen "Alison's Birthday", "The Craft" or "The Covenant", there's nothing new here.

With its credible acting, witty moments of dialogue and genuine attempts at characterisation, "Beautiful Creatures" probably isn't a bad movie if you're twelve or younger and haven't seen anything else like it. It may be possible to actually care about the smart-talking characters, think they're kind of cool and hope that love will conquer all at the end, but anyone older isn't going to be so easily pleased or lenient even given the internal logic of the fantasy itself. Let's face it, witches and wizards aren't real, never have been, and never will be. The whole premise of the film is undoubtedly silly and, in my opinion, would have worked better as a more obvious '80s-style comedy. Please note that I say that as someone who detests comedies.

"I hope you kids are using protection."

The story is a horrible mixture of being contrived and timid at the same time albeit with a couple of scenes which push the boundaries regarding underage sex. The twenty-four year old Alden Ehrenreich (as Ethan) and nineteen year old Alice Englert (Lena) aren't that convincing at acting younger than their ages in spite of valiant efforts to do so. The whole relationship between Ethan and Lena suggests paedophilia (or statutory rape) in no uncertain terms. Not that any of us necessarily want to see them bumping uglies on screen, but cutting to a sign burning in the background at one point like something out of the 1950s is also likely to incite more groans from the audience in displeasure than anything else.

Unlike "Twilight", these "kids" can't wait to lose their cherries. But if you're going to show "teenagers" getting it on then show it! And if you're going to get us excited about Emmy Rossum walking around in a black négligée at least be nice enough to provide a money shot after she's been writhing on a blanket with a sickly looking youth! If there's one thing crucial to a story in this genre, it's a deflowering or two! Given the PG-13 rating, obviously that doesn't happen. I have no idea if it happens in the book either although I assume it does since normal teenagers rarely read books aimed at their age group unless there's something saucy in them. I'm sure they won't miss the insinuation of incest between Macon and Sarafine either. I don't want to digress too much so I'll get on my soapbox about the pointlessness of "YT" horror fiction another time.

"Stop! In the name of love... before you break my heart..."

I'm not sure how to fit this into my critique, but I really need to hop on my soapbox for a moment about something else in "Beautiful Creatures" which bugged the Hell out of me (no pun intended): the depiction of Christians. Since they are made out to be a bunch of small town puritans with hillbilly superstitions, could the writing really be any lazier? And could this feeble clichéd jibe be an indication of a much bigger problem behind the scenes of the media as we know it? I'm not going to push this any further, but it's something to think about. I'd say the agenda was more in the mind of the authors, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, than director Richard LaGravenese, but either way, it's lame. In a book or movie about witches though, you have to have something wrong with you to be attracted to this guff in the first place.

Suspending your disbelief about immortal witches (instead of vampires or werewolves) isn't the only hard part. If you're American, the plethora of fake Southern accents in "Beautiful Creatures" will definitely drive you insane. They are even harsher and less intelligible to British ears especially when delivered from the mouths of the very British Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson. Through no fault of his own, Jeremy Irons makes my flesh crawl at the best of times even when he isn't trying to sound like Foghorn Leghorn.

Other cast members are more in the background apart from the better looking of the stereotypical clique of "popular girls", Zoey Deutch, who deserves to go further. I can't wait to see her in "Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters" next year. I'm not sure who Viola Davis is because I've never knowingly seen her in anything else, but apparently it's kind of a big deal having her in this movie. Thomas Mann, who plays Link, was also in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" recently, but Pruitt Taylor Vince, Eileen Atkins and Kyle Gallner are almost completely wasted in their bit parts. It's not worth going through any more of the actors because you won't have heard of them and are unlikely to see them in anything else. Having said that, you barely get to see any of them here either. You do get to see massive CGI thunderstorms instead though.

I love excessive, big budget wastes of money like this because it almost justifies the price of the ticket. I'd rather pay $10 to see something with high production values than the same amount for some half-arsed camcorder crap no matter what the subject matter may be. Unfortunately, "Beautiful Creatures" isn't all explosions, bangs, and the kind of spectacle which makes for a true cinematic experience. It has its moments, but it's mostly a drawn-out romantic drama with a kind of "Harry Potter" aesthetic and dialogue which wouldn't be out of place in "Jennifer's Body", "Juno" or some other pop-culture reference filled piece of pseudo-hipsterishness for little girls.

My advice is to wait for this to come out on DVD and then rent it.

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