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Review: Beautiful Creatures (2013)

Beautiful Creatures (2013)

Directed by: Richard LaGravenese

Premise: An adaptation of the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. A teenage girl (Alice Englert) with magical powers moves to a small southern town. As she approaches her sixteenth birthday, the young woman prepares to dedicate herself to either light or dark magic. Her relationship with a local boy (Alden Ehrenreich) complicates her decision. 

What Works: There are a number of parallels between Beautiful Creatures and Twilight and while both pictures share many of the same faults, Beautiful Creatures does have a sense of humor that the vampire saga lacked. The script is witty and lead actors Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert do as good a job as can be expected with the material they have to work with.

What Doesn’t: Screening Beautiful Creatures is a baffling experience. It is very important for filmmakers to establish tone and setting in the first few scenes of a movie because it tells the audience what kind of story the filmmakers are trying to tell. This is especially important in fantasy movies because these pictures don’t imitate recognizable daily life and the filmmakers have to establish what is normal early on so that viewers can orient themselves within the story world. Beautiful Creatures fails to do this; it plunges the audience into its story world but there is nothing anchoring the viewer. As a result the movie is perpetually confusing and the viewer is likely to spend most of his or her time just trying to figure out what is going on. For a time Beautiful Creatures appears as though it might be a satire in the mode of Pleasantville or A Clockwork Orange; this would explain the peculiar story world, the stereotypical characters, and the cliché plot turns. But Beautiful Creatures isn’t a satire. It’s just a poorly made movie. Every scene is clumsy; director Richard LaGravenese cannot stage a coherent scene. The camera placement and the blocking of the action are awkward and scenes have no disenable purpose or rhythm. The costume and set design are also badly conceived. The supernatural characters dress like they came out of a Lady Gaga video and the interior sets recall something out of a Tim Burton picture but the rest of the movie has a naturalistic and rustic look. Unlike the Harry Potter films, which transitioned very smoothly between magical and muggle worlds, Beautiful Creatures is jarring. The disorienting mismatch may be intentional but the filmmakers don’t accomplish anything through it and that hurts the credibility of the story world. The sound is also problematic, especially the music score and song selections which are so overbearing that they drown out the dialogue and overstate the subtext. Usually one of the highlights of a fantasy picture is the characters but the players in Beautiful Creatures are flat and uninteresting and they embody every small town movie cliché. This is most apparent in the Christian antagonists, who are watered down versions of the same characters in Saved! and Easy A. Whatever the religious convictions of the viewer, there is no getting around how lazy this is. The romance is also poor. There is no spark between the lead characters and they don’t do anything to earn or prove their love. But what is worst about Beautiful Creatures is now badly it botches the central idea. The concept of the story is potentially compelling and it raises issues about free will, the conflict between good and evil, and to what extent our heritage determines who we are. The filmmakers of Beautiful Creatures make a pig’s ear out of all of this and rob the story and the characters of the little that they have going for them.

Bottom Line: Beautiful Creatures is supposed to be the first in a series of movies based on the books by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, but this movie is the worst debut of an aspiring franchise since The Golden Compass. It may be best for everyone involved if the film series stops here because this picture is too damaged to spawn healthy offspring.

Episode: #429 (March 3, 2013)