Wednesday, 20 February 2013
FILM REVIEW: BEAUTIFUL CREATURES
With barely enough time for the living dead corpse of the Twilight franchise to grow cold (or should that be warm up?) following its climax last year, another tale of teen love between a mere mortal and the supernatural has materialised.
Beautiful Creatures, based on the Young Adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl and adapted by writer-director Richard LaGravenese, is a Romeo and Juliet-style romance where witches replace vampires and the temperature is noticeably higher, and not just because of its Deep South setting.
Having spent the summer suffering feverish dreams of a mystery girl, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a 16-year-old who manages to be both bookish and athletic in his South Carolina town, is intrigued by the new addition to his high school. That would be the dark-haired, milky white-skinned Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), niece of the town recluse, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), and descendant of the town founder.
Naturally, the outsider is ostracised by the student body but Ethan, who's fond of reading banned literature, is intrigued. He's not about to be dismayed by his peers' furrowed brows or those of Lena, who rebuffs his charming advances until his Southern charm wears her down and wins her over.
At the risk of incurring the wrath of Twi-hards, it has to be said that Ehrenreich and Englert bring a lot more warmth and personality to Ethan and Lena than did Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson as Bella and Edward in the Twilight films.
And even the revelation that Lena is actually a teen witch doesn't much deter this Romeo. Actually, in 2013 the w-word is no longer acceptable; Lena and her kind prefer the term 'Caster' (as in spell caster).
But if it walks and talks like a witch then it must be, according to the townsfolk, a Devil worshipper. LaGravenese's film has a healthy disrespect for Christian fanaticism, having much fun at the expense of those who cling to the Bible whilst shunning anyone different. "What would Jesus do?" is not a thought that has occurred to these people.
More disturbing than amusing, however, is the thinly disguised misogyny at the heart of the story's premise: that girls, once they enter womanhood -- begin menstruating, discover their sexuality -- become a force to be reckoned with and, if they turn to the dark side, to be feared.
If a female Caster is pure of heart, she will remain so when she is "Claimed", but Lord help us all if she should not be a good girl and is claimed for the dark. That female sexuality should be viewed as something to be feared is a troubling notion to posit at the heart of a film (and book) targeted at a YA audience.
Lena's 16th birthday is fast approaching and the family are concerned she'll go the way of her mother, Sarafine (Emma Thompson, chewing scenery like a mad cow), a powerful dark Caster who is currently possessing the body of the town's leading Bible thumper, Mrs. Lincoln.
Sarafine, along with Lena's cousin, Ridley (Emmy Rossum), have come to claim Lena for the darkness, but Macon, Ethan, and his carer, Amma (Viola Davis, somehow managing to keep a straight face), who knows more about the supernatural world than she's been letting on to her young charge, are determined to keep her in the light.
After the surprisingly charming set-up, the remaining two-thirds of Beautiful Creatures (I'm not sure where that title comes from?) is less engaging, as the hocus pocus hokum comes to the fore (with some less than magical visual effects) and there's more ham on display than can be found on a pork farmer's Christmas dinner table.
But it's not all bad, and it's rarely dull, but the after taste left by the sexist undertones of Beautiful Creatures is a little bitter. A little more judicious editing on LaGravenese's part may have resulted in far more potent, less pungent brew.