‘Beautiful Creatures’ is nauseating southern Gothic, despite good acting

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in 'Beautiful Creatures' — Photo courtesy of John Bramley
Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in ‘Beautiful Creatures’ — Photo courtesy of John Bramley

Beautiful Creatures will likely appeal to those fans who drink the unholy grail of Twilight. It has supernatural elements, pale-skinned lead actors and a general dedication to all things odd. The problem is that the elements don’t add up to much. While the visuals can be striking, there’s no appreciation for the characters who populate this small southern town.

Our main character is Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich, in a nice performance). He’s one of the good guys in this small village, yearning to break from his hometown, almost like a lyric from a John Mellencamp song. When the students at his high school begin picking on the new girl, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), he sees an opportunity to make friends. The two start off on rocky ground, and, as these things go, barriers begin to crumble and true identities are revealed.

Lena is no typical new girl in town. She’s actually holding the key to a supernatural secret that forever ties the Duchannes family to this town. Her uncle, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), is reviled for his odd ways, but like Ebenezer Scrooge, he has too much money to be completely ignored. Emma Thompson turns up in a thankless role as Mrs. Lincoln, a local mother who pushes her conservative agenda on everyone in town. Viola Davis is Amma, a mother figure to Ethan, and Emmy Rossum plays the devilish Ridley Duchannes.

Everyone puts up a front because deep down there’s a secret for each character. True Blood fans, who are used to new revelations on a weekly basis, should be able to figure out the supernatural elements fairly quickly.

Richard LaGravenese, who wrote and directed the movie, has a nice way of creating this Gothic fairytale. The visuals in the film are striking and often beautiful, reminding me of both Pleasantville and movies from the 1940s and 1950s. The script is less successful in trying to fill in the blanks between the visuals. The liberal/conservative dynamic of the town is too heavy-handed. The motives of each character seem to change within seconds. Lines of dialogue only serve the plot and not to further the characterization process. Ethan, who receives the most screen time, is the only creation who feels fully fleshed out.

The acting is enjoyable, and there’s no doubt that this talented group is making the most of a forgettable tale. Ehrenreich, almost with a James Dean quality, feels genuinely southern and a resident of this town. The problem is that he’s too old to play a high school student. His mannerisms and personality seem too cultured for a boy who’s never left the town he grew up in.

Englert is mostly blah, reading her lines with a detachment that seems the result of bad direction. Irons, Rossum and Thompson are zanily good, enjoying the campiness of the story, while Davis offers a simple performance in an underwritten role.

Beautiful Creatures tanked at the box office, and this will likely keep it from “franchise” heaven. It may be remembered one day for its visual style and cinematography, but other than that, this supernatural tale is less than super.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Beautiful Creatures

  • 2013

  • Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese

  • Based on the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

  • Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum and Viola Davis

  • Running time: 120 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material

  • Rating: ★★☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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