It’s almost too easy to be cynical about a film like Richard LaGravenese’s Beautiful Creatures (2013). With the blockbusting Twilight franchise currently sitting comfortably on $3.3 billion worth of box office receipts, Hollywood is hungrily looking for the next cash-generating supernatural-teen-angst obsession. Beautiful Creatures ticks all the right boxes: an inbuilt source novel audience; a sexy, chiselled young cast; a soapy romance intermingled with mystical forces; and a guaranteed franchise (the book is the first in a series of four). This is old, ruthless movie business logic, predetermined to be a roaring financial success.
Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) is a lonely 15-year-old girl who moves to the small South Carolina of Gatlin, where she struggles to make friends, and indeed, creates a few enemies, due to her strange and magical powers, which cause lightning storms and broken windows. Only hunky bookworm Ethan (Aiden Ehrenreich) takes pity on her, and a budding but star-crossed romance develops. Lena, it emerges, is a sort of witch, or ‘caster’, and on her sixteenth birthday, as with all casters, it will be determined whether she is a caster of the light or dark side.
This fictional universe features the usual fairytale stock: spells, curses, magic leather-bound books, and the overarching, absolutist theme of good versus evil that all fantasies feel compelled to include. Sometimes, the tedious spurts of magical particulars are trivial; several scenes feel cumbersome with exposition that could have easily been expunged in a more economical script rewrite. Gratifyingly, unlike Twilight’s witless melodrama, LaGravenese injects a vague sense of humour, albeit an underdeveloped one. There are neo-Gothic nods to mid-90s Tim Burton in some of the campier costume and set design choices, and the script intermittently acknowledges its own absurdity.
However, for the most part, it’s business as usual, as Beautiful Creatures obediently follows the young-adult fiction blueprint. Lena is a very obvious metaphor for the universal teenage themes of isolation and loneliness, and this is played to full dreary effect. The casters are outcasts, spurned by the conservative Christian community who label them Satanists. Some rather ham-fisted parallels are made, quite explicitly, with To Kill A Mockingbird; Lena calls her uncle (Jeremy Irons) ‘Boo Radley’.
Neither original nor interesting, Lena and Ethan’s tedious romance plods on in tandem with various effort to break a curse, and extreme boredom is only curtailed by the schadenfreudian pleasures of Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson attempting their very best ‘well ah do de-clay-uh’ Deep South accents. (Irons hits the mark maybe 20% of the time.) Beautiful Creatures will stir the quivering hearts of the pubescent target audience and cheap Valentine’s Day dates, but it’s slim pickings for the rest of us.