Note – I’d like to stress right from the get-go that I haven’t read the novel that this movie was based on, so any commentary I make comes straight from the movie itself, not a comparison between the movie and the book. Thus if I give praise or make a complaint about something and you know it to be different in the source material, that’s not relevent to what I’m doing here. I have not read it, and so I will not comment on it.
With that aside, let’s jump right into the review of…
The story revolves around Ethan, your average attractive high school student, and Lena, new to town and part of a family with a long and despised heritage when it comes to their involvement with the small town of Gatlin. They’ve both been dreaming about each other before they ever met, and naturally, as is par for the course in just about anything, they’re destined to fall in love and be together. It’s a foregone conclusion; even other characters talk about how they’ve been tied to each other since birth, even though they only have known each other for a few weeks.
Which I’ve expressed my distaste with in the past, so I won’t bother going on about it again at length here. The Instalove trope has never entertained me, and it find it painfully overdone and trite. That being said, I do think the actual relationship aspect of the romance was done pretty decently. They’re kind of adorable as a couple. For all that Lena calls Ethan charming and that he could fit in anywhere, I think he’s a somewhat awkward kid who speaks before he thinks and that leads to some very realistic conversations between them. In the early stages of them knowing each other, he tries to impress her and comes out with some corny lines that come across, well, as a teenage boy trying to impress a pretty girl. It’s not eloquent or containing any insight into her secrets or his soul, but awkward and silly and they both realise it. So for my part, I do think that was actually done rather well. So when the focus is on that and less on how meant for each other they clearly are, I enjoyed the two of them far more.
The crux of the story centres, however, on Lena, as she is from a family of casters, magic-users, and as per tradition, on her 16th birthday, she will be claimed for either good or evil, with no choice in the matter. Males in the family have a choice, but for females, it’s all decided for them, in accordance with their inner natures. Lena fears, because she has a hard time controlling her powers when her temper flares, that she’ll be claimed for darkness, though she doesn’t want to be. Picture the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, only with 2 Houses and it doesn’t give a crap about your choices and desires. And that Lena has fallen in love means she won’t be able to resist being claimed for darkness, something which I don’t think was explained very well though it was brought up quite a bit as the movie advanced.
The family patriarch, Macon (played by Jeremy Irons, whose southern accent had more than a strong touch of British to it), declares that Lena is no longer allowed to see Ethan, ever again, to try to avoid darkness as best she can. Which is something that baffled me and seemed a bit over the top when you consider that it really only mattered until her 16th birthday had passed and she had been claimed. After that, the danger would have passed and they could be together without risk. But that didn’t seem to occur to anyone; it was an all-or-nothing deal. I don’t know, maybe in the book somebody points out this flaw in the logic, or there’s a better reason for it, but there was certainly nothing in the movie to indicate why they couldn’t just wait for a while.
I was quite pleased by what eventually happened with Lena’s claiming, though it wasn’t a surprise thanks to an earlier scene hinting very strongly at it. But it’s nice to see balance portrayed as a good alternative to the only choices being at either end of a spectrum.
I do want to take a moment to talk about a particularly painful scene, though, and by that I mean it caused by insides to shrivel a little from all the demonstrated hate, rather than it being a poor scene. The church scene. Half the adults in the town turn up to discuss expelling Lena from school due to rumours of Satanism surrounding her family and the fact that classroom windows exploded while she was being bullied. I admit I did have a hard time believing the realism of this scene, since nobody seemed to want to stand up and ask, “So how are you claiming that this girl blew out a room full of windows without being near them?” But maybe that disbelief comes from the fact that I live in a place where this sort of religious fervour doesn’t really happen much, and I know the American south is rather known for it. Maybe it was realistic to have people behaving that way, I don’t know. Either way, it hurt to watch it, watching that kind of small town mentality meeting to decide a kid’s future based largely on the fact that they disagree with what they think she believes.
It was chilling to watch. Honestly, it was more chilling to watch before the spirit of a dark caster possessed the woman doing most of the speaking. Mundane terrors can hit so much harder than supernatural ones, sometimes.
When you get right down to it, I found that Beautiful Creatures was a pretty good movie, quite a bit more so than most novel adaptations I’ve seen recently. The story was reasonably well crafted and with very few small exceptions, made good sense, which is something I find actually gets missed a surprising amount in adaptations. A lot of books-to-movies seem to get made on the assumption that any watchers have already read the books and know the story, so their job is just to put some shiny visuals up and not bother to keep the plot coherent. Beautiful Creatures didn’t fall into that trap. The acting, too, was quite good, most notable in the case of Alden Ehrenreich (playing Ethan), who did a fantastic job and whose work I look forward to seeing more of in the future. Definitely an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, especially if you enjoy supernatural YA flicks.