Supernatural forbidden romance has probably never seen better days. Undoubtedly left hungry after the conclusion of the Twilight films, the powerful demographic of teenage girls can look forward to the screen adaptation of yet another young adult series fitting this remarkably marketable description. Beautiful Creatures, though certainly designed for that target audience and following a familiar formula, is a respectable guilty pleasure.
The film brings a twist to the clichéd tale of forbidden love with a reversal of gender roles; the story is told through the male lead’s point of view. In other words, any guy who’s ever been besotted with a beautiful immortal and felt a keen lack of media representation can rejoice.
The protagonist is a witty, bookish teenager named Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich). In his junior year of high school in a small South Carolina town, he feels stifled by the lack of open mindedness in the community. That is, until sparks fly as he spots the mysterious Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) reading Charles Bukowski.
The forbidden element of their relationship lies in the irksome reality that Lena isn’t quite human, but a witch, or “caster,” whose coming 16th birthday marks the time when she will claimed by supernatural forces for either the light or the dark. Her eccentric family of otherworldly beings isn’t making her life any easier, having been saddled with a curse that dates back to the Civil War. To top things off, her romance with Ethan will only increase the chances that she will fall to the dark side of the force.
Director and Oscar-nominated writer of The Fisher King, Richard LaGravenese, has succeeded in adapting a story that delves into the young minds of its central couple as the world falls into chaos. However, as often happens when a book is turned into a film, fans of the novel may be disappointed by the amount of creative license that the filmmakers exercise.
The special effects can be overwrought and distracting, making the action scenes filled with spells difficult to watch in spite of their excitement. On the other hand, dullness kicks in as Lena and Ethan scour dusty books for clues about her family’s past. The romance, though hardly immune to clichés, thus remains the highlight of the film—as awkward teens struggling to have a normal relationship, Lena and Ethan emanate a kind of sweetness and relatability that is amplified by the undeniable chemistry between Englert and Ehrenreich.
Beyond its young stars, however, the cast is packed with seasoned talent. Jeremy Irons tops the list as the brooding Macon Ravenwood, the patriarch of Lena’s family who wants to help her avoid becoming prey to its curse. Two sirens to support the dark cause are played by Emmy Rossum and Emma Thompson, who clearly relish the chance to fill their villainous roles with reckless abandon, while Oscar-nominated Viola Davis makes a welcome appearance as the town librarian.
Though these familiar faces bring energy to their roles, they complete a group of supporting characters that are cartoonish in their eccentricities. It’s difficult to find much believability, making dismissing the film as little more than a campy franchise easy. Doing so, however, misses out on the fun. If you find the teen girl within, Beautiful Creatures has more in store than you think.