Beautiful Creatures - SideReel Review

Beautiful Creatures - SideReel Review

Tween girls and sexually unsatisfied adult women, gird your loins -- it’s time for another epically romantic teen-fantasy franchise, and this one is really good: Beautiful Creatures. If Twilight made your heart go pitter-patter, you’ll probably love this movie. Interestingly, if Twilight made you vomit, you might also love this movie. Because while it’s just as passionate and sappy, it’s nowhere near as crappy.

That’s not an affront to Twilight exactly. Okay, well, maybe it is. But clearly, Twilight did just fine without particularly concerning itself with issues of quality filmmaking. It was meant to make its audience line up outside the theater in homemade T-shirts, and its zillion-dollar box-office gross proves that in this respect, it totally succeeded. But for what it’s worth (and that would be a lot if you were part of the vomit crowd from above), Beautiful Creatures does concern itself with quality. In between the longing looks and stolen kisses there’s great acting (the supporting cast include Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and Viola Davis) and solid writing, not to mention a way better underlying message behind all the dramatic declarations of true love and destiny. And it’s about time that a supernatural-fantasy movie aimed squarely at teenage girls told a story in which the character with the fantastically supernatural powers is, in fact, a teenage girl.

The girl in question is Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert). She’s just moved to the podunk South Carolina town of Gatlin and enrolled at the local high school, which is unsurprisingly run by gossipy, small-minded mean girls. The only person who gets her -- or dreams of bigger places or ideas -- is a cute guy named Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who recognizes her instantly from the cryptic dreams he’s been having every night.

Lena is an orphan, and she’s come to stay with her mysterious uncle, Macon Ravenwood (Irons), a stately Southern gentleman who lives in a mansion outside of town. His storied family founded Gatlin, and we soon figure out why: Mystical families in these movies are always quietly rich and powerful, right? The Ravenwood clan are Casters, born with powers that ordinary mortals don’t have, like the ability to move objects, control the elements, and even step out of normal space and time to communicate only with each other. For this reason, the red-hot spark of Lena and Ethan’s love is in imminent danger. Lena is about to turn 16, and when female Casters reach that age, their destiny as either good or evil is revealed. Male Casters can choose, but for some reason, females can’t. Go figure. So Lena and Ethan set out together to uncover the strange, secret lore of their families’ intertwined histories dating back to the Civil War, and figure out how to grant Lena the power to choose her own destiny.

You can already see that this movie has something going for it: The protagonist is self-directed. The whole plot hinges on Lena deciding her own fate and not accepting the identity that’s handed to her. You could draw a parallel to real life pretty easily, right? Plenty of girls today feel like they’re barely in control of the role others dictate for them. And women for all of time have had to deal with the idea that whether you’ve been cast as the Good Girl or the Bad Girl, you rarely get to choose and you can’t be both. There are some other smart issues at play in the movie too, like mothers feeling jealous of their beautiful, budding daughters, the fact that willful ignorance does nothing to protect you from evil, and of course, that true love is about finding someone who accepts both your dark and light sides.

But hey, that’s just one reading of it. Beautiful Creatures doesn’t harp on any subtext, yet what’s there to imbibe is pretty good. It’s also full of bonkers fun, complete with a weird, fancifully dressed extended family who get into dinner-table squabbles that result in cosmic tornadoes. And the ancient, powerful Uncle Macon is delightedly obsessed with Google.

Frankly, this movie is better than Twilight. Die-hard fans may not agree, but sheepish fans who loved it despite thinking "I am too smart for this" certainly will. So let’s go ahead and call Beautiful Creatures the smart guy/gal’s Twilight. It was also based on a book series, but unlike its competition, Beautiful Creatures is a good fit for viewers who have read other books too.

-Cammila Collar


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