‘Beautiful Creatures’ movie review: The Twilight Saga by way of Bukowski


With the Twilight Saga freshly laid to rest, the search for its successor has quickly begun: the first six weeks of 2013 have seen the release of Warm Bodies, about a teen girl falling in love with a zombie (no release date yet in the Czech Republic), and now Beautiful Creatures, about a teen boy falling in love with a witch. I wait with bated breath for the next variant on this subject matter; it can only get more interesting from here.

Swap the gender of the leads, trade vampires for witches (here called “casters”), and transplant the story from the Pacific Northwest to the rural Southeast (the fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina, to be precise), and you’ve got a “fresh” spin on the Romeo & Juliet & monsters premise. 

Let me get this out of the way: Beautiful Creatures is mostly well done from a technical standpoint, with terrific widescreen lensing by Philippe Rousselot (Big Fish) that makes great use of some Southern locales; sets and costumes are similarly first-rate, and CGI is moderate and properly rendered. The film certainly looks a lot better than the Twilight movies, though the latter’s low-budget feel gave it a certain appeal; Beautiful Creatures has that glossy-bland Hollywood sheen. 

Aden Ehrenreich (so good in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro) makes for an appealing lead as highschooler Ethan Wate, even if his Southern-fried drawl gets too heavy at times. He’s well-supported by a talented cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and Emmy Rossum, who steals the movie as the dangerously seductive Ridley Duchannes. 

Fans of the series of novels by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl – and others among its target audience – will likely find Beautiful Creatures a decent-enough ride through familiar territory. 

That’s the good. Here’s the bad: I hated this movie. Hated the cloying way in which the material is presented, hated the arbitrary and careless presentation of the fantasy elements, hated the unnatural way the story is forced into formula conventions, and hated the snail’s pace at which it all crawls along for just over two hours. Beautiful Creatures was a tortuous experience that tested my patience far more than any traditionally “bad” movie is capable of.

This is, ultimately, exactly what you fear going in: a cold, calculated attempt to create the next hot new franchise from popular young adult elements. But instead of embracing the silly camp inherent in this generic material, the filmmakers outright reject it, imbibing this teenage fantasy soap opera with self-important themes and ideas, with frequent references to classic literature (To Kill a Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse Five, and other novels are directly referenced on screen) and Charles Bukowski, whose poem the way it is now inspired the film’s title. 

The makers of this film, in other words, are placing themselves above the material, pandering to the young adult demographic while attempting to maintain their street cred. This movie exists for no other reason than to propagate and prosper, which is no different than others of its ilk, but the filmmakers’ disinterest in and even disdain for the material is so palpable that you can’t help but feel their derision for you, their audience. 

Ehrenreich’s Ethan is an angry(ish) young man yearning to escape small town life; a Southern-fried hipster, a Starbucks Bukowski. The actor is appealing, but has nothing to work with outside a pile of disparate clichés in lieu of a fully-formed character. 

The girl of his dreams (literally) is Lena Duchannes, the new girl in town; she’s played by Alice Englert, the daughter of filmmakers Jane Campion and Colin Englert, who seems talented but has even less to work with. 

Ethan and Lena share the least compelling romance imaginable, devoid of any conflict save for the fact that she’s a “caster”. And that she might “turn evil” on her sixteenth birthday, like her mother Sarafin (Thompson) and cousin Ridley (Rossum), who are trying to force the issue while her uncle (Irons) attempts to protect her. Somehow.

Beautiful Creatures never feels the need to fully explain its universe to us, resulting in scenes of supernatural happenings that we have no way of relating to. The rules are invented and reinvented as the film progresses: characters or events don’t resolve conflict, exposition does. 

The finale is so devoid of logic – internal or external – that we’re left utterly confounded, unable to use what the film has previously told us to anticipate future events. There’s a neat little Twilight Zone twist hanging in the air at the end, but the film never picks up on it. 

Director Richard LaGravenese was once a celebrated screenwriter who earned an Oscar nomination for The Fisher King and adapted The Bridges of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer for the screen. 

His directorial debut, Living Out Loud, didn’t make much of an impact in 1998, and his stock fell further with Freedom Writers and P.S. I Love You in 2007. Beautiful Creatures is the work of talented but jaded cynics who care not for their audience, only the revenue they will bring. It’s this kind of mentality that will halt a potential franchise dead in its tracks. 

Beautiful Creatures


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.