Many of you will have already discovered, with some dismay, that ‘Paranormal Romance’ now constitutes its own section at your local bookstore. As a genre, it boasts such flagships as the ‘Twilight’ saga, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and, more recently, ‘The Caster Chronicles’ – the first instalment of which is ‘Beautiful Creatures’, the inspiration for a new motion picture. While comparisons between this film and the patronising, tawdry ‘Twilight’ saga are justified and reasonable, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that it doesn’t suck, at least not as much as you’d expect.
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), an intellectually curious outcast in his God-fearing home town of Gatlin, South Carolina, has recurring dreams about a dark, mysterious girl that he’s never met. Then one day, that girl walks in to his life in the form of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), niece of the local recluse and perceived Satan-worshipper. As their romance blossoms, Lena is forced to reveal a secret about herself and her family that could change the town and her relationship with Ethan, forever.
‘Beautiful Creatures’ is equal parts fun, campy and downright silly, but fortunately even the silliest moments are still pretty entertaining. The first act starts out strongly with a convincing burgeoning romance between the patently charming Ethan and the, well, pretty irascible Lena. As her cold front begins to thaw, the interaction between them becomes quite engaging.
Alden Ehrenreich is great as Ethan, and his natural charisma is irrepressible. Lena, on the other hand, is effectively a cypher for the majority of the film, coming into her own only in the third act, but Alice Englert does a good job of making her bitter and tortured yet sympathetic.
The real stand-out performances come from Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, hamming it up as Macon the reclusive warlock and Seraphim the dark witch respectively. While their characters are the usual “goodie / baddie” fare for these sort of outings, they deliver their performances with such conviction, energy and glee that it’s hard not to smile when they’re on screen.
The mis en scène is gorgeous, with some truly stunning scenes to behold, in particular a narratively significant flashback and the season-shifting interiors of Macon’s mansion. It’s visually beautiful overall, and the richness of the scenery and costuming helps to compliment the world within the film.
Somewhere around the end of the second act, the story descends into stock “good versus evil”, “star-crossed lovers with a greater destiny” triteness, and at times oscillates between eye-rollingly clichéd and categorically ridiculous, but it’s still not without its charm. There’s a nice message at the end revolving around a woman’s ability to choose her own path, but you have to slog through about ninety minutes of a fairly obtuse allegory about women’s sexual purity to get there, and the climactic battle between the light and the dark is not as satisfying as it could have been.
‘Beautiful Creatures’ is perhaps not a film that anyone over the age of 18 will be rushing to the cinema to see, but it’s still worth a look if only to get the awful taste of ‘Twilight’ out of your mouth. And hey, any film that establishes its charming protagonist as an avid reader first and foremost is okay in my book. ‘Cause reading is cool, kids.