Putting aside the bias of enjoying Teen Paranormal Romances, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES was a surprising addition to the movie genre. It cast little-known leads who display more brains than beauty (meant as a compliment), it was written and directed with talent and skill, photographed beautifully, with good visual effects. The estimated budget on IMDB is $60M and the US total gross so far is about $19.5M, which means that it was not a box office success. The movie just came out on video, On Demand…etc so it should expect more revenue, but with the book being just the first of a long series, it does not seem like there are plans to make a sequel to the movie.
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, unlike most of its kin, is narrated by the male love-interest ETHAN (Alden Ehrenreich). He tells the audience that he’s been dreaming of a girl, whose face is obscured, and she’s in danger and he needs to help her. He’s obsessed. When a new girl enrolls at his school, LENA (Alice Englert), Ethan is drawn to her and drawn to protecting her. She’s from the Ravenwood family, whom the town gossips have labeled Satanists. Protests mount against having Lena in school and odd things start happening – lightning strikes, windows shattering.
It seems there has been a shift in Ethan’s behavior. Once upon a time he dated the blonde, uber-religious, popular EMILY (Zoey Deutch) but he broke up with her before the summer, needing space, and has (or developed) a penchance for reading “banned” books by writers like Kurt Vonnegut. He is focused on getting out of town by going to college and seems to be distancing himself from small-town girls, and small-town minds, and doesn’t mind being labeled “weird” or an outsider. As he tries to get to know Lena more, he wonders whether she is the girl of his dreams. The more obstacles that come in between them, the more persistently Ethan pursues her. The fact is that Lena is a witch, or “caster,” and on her upcoming 16th birthday, like all female casters, she will be “claimed” by the light or the dark. (Apparently women don’t know their true natures until this ritual!) Her uncle MACON (beautifully played by Jeremy Irons) is a dark caster who has chosen the light in order to help sway Lena to the good side, working against Lena’s spirit mother Serafine (wonderfully embodied by Emma Thompson), the most powerful dark caster who wants her even more powerful daughter to join the side of evil.
Luckily for Ethan, Lena has been dreaming about him too. And it turns out that their great-great-grandparents had fallen in love during the Civil War and that when Lena’s great-great-grandmother saw soldiers kill Ethan’s great-great-grandfather, her heartbreak caused her to use a forbidden spell that turned her dark and unleashed a curse that no caster (at least no Ravenwood caster) can love a “mortal” without going dark. So Lena has got it from all sides: her mother’s a dark dark witch and she’s in love with a mortal, which will no doubt turn her dark. And it seems as if these star-crossed lovers were fated to find each other no matter what. The curse and the backstory is a bit under-developed. Why does love have to end in heartbreak? But that’s the idealistic teenager in me speaking, hence the aforementioned bias.
The story, the dialogue, the exposition, the acting, were all subtle and well-done, not something often seen in this genre. The small things surprised me the most, and I appreciated the questions left unanswered: why is Ethan able to break the spells? What is the family history that’s been building toward this moment? Will Ethan remember his love for Lena, or leave town as he’s always wanted? That is, of course, the crux of the ending and maybe not such a small moment but it played like a small moment, and against I mean that as a compliment. There wasn’t some huge orchestrated reunion and discussion of how it’ll all work out.
So I’ve picked up Book 1 of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl to find out more about these characters and this world. I’m sure there will be differences, but if I can’t get more from a movie sequel, I can play it out in my head reading the book series. Another compliment to BEAUTIFUL CREATURES the movie, but I guess the movie-going audiences just think differently.