In the Romeo and Juliet style of story that has proliferated in films of the romantic persuasion, would-be young lovers from opposing worlds see their fledgling infatuation hindered by pronounced differences. Perseverance helps love triumph – either fleetingly or forever; however the quest to solidify their star-crossed union is not without significant obstacles. For William Shakespeare’s titular duo, tragedy befell their efforts, an outcome subsequent tales have endeavoured to correct. The latest revisionist offering comes in the form of Beautiful Creatures, also the latest feature to transition to the screen from the ranks of young adult literature.
The small South Carolina town of Gatlin is where writer/director Richard LaGravenese (P.S. I Love You) and the novel’s authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl lay their scene, a fictional locale simmering with small-minded tension. The god-fearing, gossip-hungry populace are overt in their disdain for non-conformists, an attitude that instantly condemns new teenage inhabitant Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert, daughter of director Jane Campion) upon her arrival. With a more welcoming disposition than his neighbours, aspiring writer and fellow high schooler Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich, Somewhere) dares to think for himself, befriending the outcast. Alas, their sparks of attraction are tempered by Lena’s family and fate; as a “caster” (or witch) from a dark and devious clan, her true nature – good or evil – will only be confirmed upon her encroaching 16th birthday.
Whilst magic, mayhem and mystery afford context, Beautiful Creatures’ focus falls firmly on the couple’s challenging courtship, as effectively conveyed by relative newcomers Englert and Ehrenreich. Their characters are enlivened with angst and emotion, just as their chemistry appears authentic; considerable achievements in a genre not typically concerned with either. Though scene-stealing support comes from various allies and enemies, the magnetism of the central duo retains interest. Again, not an easy feat whilst surrounded by Jeremy Irons (The Words), Viola Davis (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Emma Thompson (Brave) and Emmy Rossum (Dragonball Evolution) all relishing the evident exaggerations of their roles, or when ensconced in an increasingly dubious narrative.
Unlike most of its ilk (the Twilight franchise included), the film’s clichéd romantic content succeeds through its earnestness, animation and artfully-coined dialogue. Instead, it is the encompassing mythology that is muddied and murky, complete with misogynistic renderings of female sexuality that the mystical packaging can’t overcome. As the machinations of the plot become increasingly burdened by questionable gender politics, the feature extends beyond its comfort zone in story development and running time. Stylish gothic staging, as shot by cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) may provide a pleasant distraction for the Shakespearian-influenced love story, however Beautiful Creatures proves morally unsettling beneath the surface of its charismatic leads and charming scenery.
Beautiful Creatures is released in Australia on February 21st.
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis