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Written by Jim Rohner Monday, February 18, 2013, 12:21 PM
Twilight Beautiful Creatures begins with the voiceover laments of soon-to-be high school junior, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich). Ethan has lived his entire life in the town of Gaitlin, South Carolina, a place so boring and backwards that it still annually celebrates re-enactments of the Civil War battle at Honey Hill and can't be bothered with putting the right name up on the marquee for the two-year old Hollywood films it finally gets around to screening (now playing: Interception starring Leonardo DiCaprio).
Living with a shut-in father and surrounded by creatively stifling backcountry ignorance (the local library still has "To Kill a Mockingbird" on the banned books list), Ethan can't wait to escape the bible-thumping Southern town—he jokingly answered "all of them" when asked to which colleges he's applied.
But it's not just teenage angst that plagues poor Ethan. Haunted by dreams in which he's beckoned by an unknown, but beautiful young girl, Ethan cannot shake the images from his head. He begins filling notebooks with drawings of a girl he's somehow in love with despite her not even being real. The dreams involve a rendezvous at the site of the Battle of Honey Hill, which in the waking world has been the site of some unnatural weather phenomena that the religiously fundamentalist locals blame on old man Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), a reclusive descendent of the town's founding family that the film flatteringly though inaccurately would like to believe is its own Boo Radley.
Despite the intertwining histories of the Ravenwoods and Gaitlin,
Boo Macon has only just begun sending his niece, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), to the local school system. The quintessential teenage outsider, Lena's dark hair and quiet, yet cynical disposition immediately sets her apart from the rest of the bubbly Southern belles, as though the accusations of being a witch didn't already ensure she'd be the last girl asked to the Christmas dance. Still, despite the social stigma against Lena, Ethan finds himself irreversibly attracted to her. Maybe it's because he's looking for something different than the air-headed beauty queen, Emily Asher (Zoey Deutch). Or maybe it's because he's under some sort of spell, but no matter the reason Ethan finds he can't stay away from the mysterious girl.
Why would he be under a spell, you ask? Well, because Lena actually is a
witch—sorry, "Caster." To call a Caster a witch would be an oversimplification the likes of calling an athlete a jock or Beautiful Creatures a Twilight ripoff. Casters can be either male or female; but while the males get to choose whether they want to devote their hocus pocus to the Light or the Dark, female Casters are claimed by one side or the other on their 16th birthday as part of a ceremony dubbed—wait for it—the "Claiming." Despite her aversion to dark things that aren't tank tops, Lena worries she'll be claimed for the Dark due to a curse that runs in her family—it claimed her cousin, Ridley (Emmy Rossum) and it claimed her mother, Sarafine (Emma Thompson), who'll stop at nothing to ensure that darkness stays a family affair.
With the release of Beautiful Creatures, Stephanie Myers has joined a club alongside Quentin Tarantino and J.K. Rowling that sees a rush to fill in the demand created by a cultural phenomenon filled by the least impressive of imitators. Beautiful Creatures, being based on a young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, pulls from the Twilight School of Natural Teen Who Falls for Supernatural Teen for No Discernible Reason to set up a story about impossible-to-find young love that is supposed to act as allegory for something else. With its characters constantly and aggressively blurting out the names of both Jesus and Satan, I'm guessing Beautiful Creatures is trying to say something about religious tolerance (or lack thereof).
But its on the nose subtext isn't the only incessant element of Beautiful Creatures that makes it annoying and ultimately unsuccessful. Twilight, while remarkably saccharine, boring, and arguably unhealthy for consumption, also at least took the time to clearly and measuredly lay out the rules for the world its writers created. Establishing the rules and roles within the supernatural realm of Casters, Seers, Claimings and blah blah blah is an exercise of rushing through bullet points of names and clauses with no consideration for reason or understanding. Yes, we're told that it's a big deal when The Claiming comes around, but there's no reason given for the significance of the age 16 or even why The Claiming matters at all. What are the consequences for being claimed by the Dark side? What are the benefits of being claimed by the Light? Why does Lena's Claiming seem to carry more weight than those of family members past? These are all questions that would've helped lend a bit more significance to yet another on-screen teenage romance that is both inexplicable in the chemistry of its two leads and impossible in its romantic aspirations.
What separates Beautiful Creatures from the Twilight series from which it so desperately draws is that the characters within this film at least have a sense of humor. There may not be any explicit chemistry between the leads, but Ehrenreich at least brings some welcome levity to the role of a kid who recognizes the smallness of the world around him. But it's Jeremy Irons who escapes the film with the most dignity intact, elevating his meager part with a welcome blend of tragedy and cynicism, in the process making Macon's tragic love subplot more resonant than that of two lovesick 16-year olds.
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