Nothing Redeeming about Beautiful Creatures
- Susan Ellingburg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2013 14 Feb
DVD Release Date: May 21, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: February 14, 2013
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Run Time: 124 minutes
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Cast: Alice Englert, Alden Ehrenreich, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons
"I just LOVED it," gushed the woman next to me as credits rolled. Really? Had I not been required to write this review I would have walked out an hour earlier. Guess there’s no accounting for taste. Beautiful Creatures is a Southern Gothic teen romance... or a coming of age story... or a film about destiny vs. personal choice... or a statement about how closed-minded and hateful Christians are... or maybe just an old-fashioned tale of sort-of-good vs. definitely evil. It's hard to tell because the film can’t seem to make up its mind.
On one level, it’s a cute, funny, teen romance about a boy with aspirations outside the city limits of his small town and the new girl (with a dark secret) he falls for. Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) is a lifetime resident of Gatlin, South Carolina. He’s a popular kid with a taste for reading banned books who considers the library his ‘church,’ saying his mother took him there "to celebrate what’s holy: books." Ethan’s had trouble sleeping lately; he has a recurring dream about a dark-haired beauty on a Civil War battlefield, but whenever he gets too close to her, his dream self dies.
Imagine Ethan’s surprise when the literal girl of his dream shows up in class—only to be immediately harassed by the "Christian" girls because everyone knows her family worships the devil. Ethan’s not that easily put off, plus he’s bored, so he falls for Lena (Alice Englert), even after learning she’s a teenaged witch—although, she tells him, "We prefer the term 'caster.'" Whatever. Lena is fast approaching her sixteenth birthday, when in a kind of supernatural bat mitzvah she’ll find out if she’s going be good or evil. Apparently male casters can choose their destiny while females must wait to be chosen (does anyone else find that remotely sexist?).
Naturally, this budding romance is a problem. Lena’s uncle (Jeremy Irons, The Words) sees Ethan as a distraction to his efforts to keep Lena "good." Her mother Serafine (Emma Thompson, Nanny McPhee Returns) and Cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) have already gone over to the dark side and want Lena to join them there to put an end to humans once and for all.
At this point things get a little boring; does anyone really think this story is going to end in an apocalypse? It doesn't help that the more heated the romance gets, the less believable it becomes. In the first flush of romance Ethan and Lena were cute, funny, and sweet together. But when it came time for passionate (in a PG-13 kind of way) make-out scenes it felt more like they were kissing only because the director ordered them to, with ears straining to hear “Cut!” Then the story veered oddly off into a National Treasure-esque direction…
Maybe it was better in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's 2009 novel of the same title. All I know is I was checking my watch to see how much more I had to endure.
In general the acting was good, but... Emma Thompson? What was she thinking to take on a role so one-dimensional? Serafine is pure hatred on a stick and while she has some good lines, she's very much a one-note character.
I can't leave off without mentioning the theologically suspect, extremely offensive, Christian-bashing aspects of this picture. The so-called Christians in the film are all caricatures, a choice that does nothing for the story and much to offend. These bigoted, hate-filled, ugly-to-the-bone church people have more in common with the KKK than with Christ. They turn prayer into mockery, using it to attack Lena in the classroom and snarling it at her family’s home. The witches, in their turn, mock God and his creations at every opportunity. But the straw that broke this reviewer’s back was when Serafine—while possessing the body of the town’s least Christ-like church lady—sashayed around the altar of a church, flipping the cover of the Bible with disdain and dabbing water from the baptismal font behind her ears like perfume, all the while ranting about humans "inventing ideas like God and love…"
Beautiful Creatures is muddled and lacking in coherence. As a Southerner, I found it stereotyped and frequently stupid. As a Christian, I found it insulting and offensive. With all due respect to the lady who "loved it" and the multitude of the novel’s fans, I cannot recommend it.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Wine and beer both consumed at different times by teens/adults; references to hangover.
- Language/Profanity: The f-word is absent, but other common profanities appear. The Lord’s name is taken in vain.
- Sex/Nudity: Kissing and fairly heavy (though not always believable) make-out scenes. Teen sex suggested but not shown. Bare back of woman shown during séance. Suggestive lingerie worn as clothing by a “siren” who has the power to make men do whatever she wants. Some cleavage.
- Violence: Boy mimes suicide by shooting himself with finger. Jokes about going to hell. New girl in school mocked by classmates. Vines/tree roots attack various characters. “Caster” causes violent car wreck; unclear if driver survives. Boy lured to death by siren, hit by train. Several characters die, some in prolonged death scenes. Some beg for their lives before death. Boys shoot each other. Repeated battle scenes with casualties; some by gunshot, some by witchcraft.
- Spiritual Concerns: A boy is shown in enforced prayer and later asks, “How does love and Jesus make a woman go crazy?” Girl admits to being witch although "we prefer the term ‘casters’." Boy asks "Satan has nothing to do with y’all, right?" but doesn’t get a clear answer. Woman calls herself a "seer" and conducts séance at gravesite. Ethan calls the library his church, saying his mother took him there to “celebrate what’s holy: books.” After reading philosophy tome he refers to the author, exclaiming “This man is a god!” Girls obnoxiously “pray” as a form of bullying. Man puts boy under spell, forcing him to spout words clearly not his own. A mob of self-righteous, hate-filled, so-called “Christians” attempt to cast out demons. A witch brings her dead lover back to life via a forbidden spell, resulting in a generational curse. Halloween is celebrated with the usual decorations. Boy is placed under spell that leaves him unable to speak. A book of spells is called “alive” (a mockery of the living Word of God). One character declares that “God created all things—only man decides which ones are mistakes” but another says fate is “predetermined by the three elements.” Possessed woman sashays around the altar of a church, disrespecting the setting, the Bible, and the baptismal font while ranting about humans "inventing ideas like God and love…"
Publication date: February 14, 2013