Beautiful Creatures starts out of the gate with the speed and grace of a dark stallion, then ends the race on the back of a pig. Ethan Wate, lover of banned books and snarky commentary, narrates his pointed feelings about his hometown of Gatlin, South Carolina.
We see a portentous dream he experiences nightly, with a hauntingly beautiful woman whose face he never quite sees. He finds a mysterious locket in the ruins of an old civil war battle during his night run. We meet his friend Link for some hilariously sarcastic quips about his religious mother. Then we are introduced to his classmates, especially the creepily sweet Emily, and the mysterious new kid in town, Lena Duchannes.
Lena is a Ravenwood, a family of ill repute and deep history with the town. The more religious townsfolk claim the Ravenwoods are in league with Satan. It’s a charming social obstacle for any new kid to overcome. When Ethan finds Lena broken down on a back road in need of a lift, they don’t meet during a sunlit day filled with birdsong, but during a torrential downpour. It is an unromantic moment, yet his nervous rapid-fire conversation and her laconic wit clash with the wonderful sparks of a beautiful relationship. After all, Lena is the girl of his dreams.
We soon learn that there is a kernel of truth to the town rumors. Lena-s family is a family of casters—users of magic—and they live under a curse from years ago when Genevieve Duchannes revived her mortal Confederate soldier lover using forbidden black magic. The spell brought him back from the dead, but it also pulled Genevieve to the dark side.
Since then, the men in the family would choose whether they would serve light or dark on their 16th birthday. The women, however, were not allowed that choice. Magic made it for them. Lena wanted to make the choice for light, but worried she would become dark. This archetypal conflict of free will versus fate set the stage for the rest of the story.
Unfortunately, once the movie finished establishing its beautifully macabre setting and building its lovely characters, it seemed the script was handed off to the B Team. It was time for the special effects crew to have their turn. Characters became stereotypes, the worst offenders being the laughably-bad evangelicals. I wondered if the writers had ever met a Christian, so off where the depictions. In an act of cosmic balance, however, Lena’s family life was played for laughs as if we were suddenly watching a deep South version of The Addams Family.
Ethan Wate was my favorite character, and the main reason I continued to enjoy the film. His character development and cheek captured my attention from start to finish. Although the movie began with his narration, the script writers seemed to forget that after a while. Ethan’s story then became Lena’s story, but her story was not as interesting as his. Fortunately, Ethan was Lena’s boyfriend so he came along for the ride. Soon the battle over Lena’s alliance came to a crescendo and she made her fateful choice utilizing old magic gleaned from an ancient book.
Then the movie ended. I don’t want to spoil the surprises, but I can say Beautiful Creatures ended rather plainly with none of the sparkling wit and life of the beginning. Perhaps the writers shouldn’t have veered so far off the source material.
Release Date: February 14, 2013 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (smoking, dinner drinks)
Language: 3 (deity, d/s/a/h-words)
Sexuality: 0 (make-out session, innuendo)
Violence: 2 (civil war reenactment, magical death)