Film Review – Beautiful Creatures
Due to the trend of trailers sharing too much of their films’ plots, and thinking of the untapped tween market now that the Twilight franchise has wrapped, I decided to do an experiment with my review for Beautiful Creatures. I am writing half of my review before seeing the movie, to see how accurately my pre-conceived notions will actually align with the end product. Whether it is a pleasant surprise or the same old schlock, I want to find out if expectations match reality.
BS (“Before Screening”):
As it was at the core of every Twilight movie, the story follows a girl, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), and a guy, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), from opposite sides of the tracks. They fall in love, despite the concern of his friends, but there is one thing he doesn’t know…she has a dark secret. He is introduced to a world beyond the known universe; as a battle for the future of the world is waged, Lena discovers the depth of her powers. While it appears that their love might be a danger to her future and the future of the world, ultimately it is revealed that their love provides the biggest empowerment of all, and that together, not separately, they are truly the safest.
Trying to distinguish itself from the mystical path of Twilight, the film decides to “‘step outside the box” by replacing vampires and werewolves with witches. One of the surprising and riskier decisions was to cast Englert and Ehrenreich as the leads, despite neither of them having extensive acting experience. Due to this, the acting leaves something to be desired, with the strongest contributions coming from the supporting cast (Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emma Thomas), who are unfortunately way underutilized.
While the acting does the movie no favors, the strongest attributes come from the action/visual effects portion, and unless you are a fan of the book or tween dramas, this is the reason to see it. The cinematography is lush and beautiful, coming from veteran Philippe Rousselot, best known for his work on films such as Big Fish and The Bear. Similarly, the visual effects are done by talented companies such as Pixomondo (Hugo, Super 8) and Method Studios (Pirates of the Caribbean, Tree of Life). If the film had simply been an opportunity to let these folks showcase their work, then it would’ve been a success. Unfortunately, the story got in the way.
Despite appearing to go after the same market, there are a few noteworthy differences between this and the Twilight franchise. The love triangle drama has been replaced by the power struggle within the covenant. The film also takes its perspective from the “different” character, and yes, I know you could technically argue that was true of Twilight as well…but that was to a much smaller degree.
Clearly meant to be the starting point in a franchise, the door is left open in case the film is successful enough to garner a sequel. Unfortunately, this film is mediocre, failing to distinguish itself from others in its genre. It is still too focused on the clichéd love story to let the more interesting battle for power take the forefront.
Final Grade: B-
PS (“Post Screening”):
It’s funny to come out of a movie feeling it was about what I expected, but the problems I had with it were for completely different reasons than anticipated. My predictions about the plot based upon the trailer were fairly on point, with the exception of the first half of the film taking place with Ehrenreich’s Ethan being the lead character and narrator (making it feel even more Twilight-ish in that regard). About halfway through, focus shifts to Englert’s Lena, which seems a bit more natural of a fit. The plot is more or less as anticipated, but there is a somewhat confusing and largely unnecessary subplot added to make the romantic dramas even more complicated.
One of the most glaring elements where my expectations were wrong was about the acting. I found the chemistry between Englert and Ehrenreich to be the most engaging part of the movie, and frankly found all the veteran actors like Irons, Davis, and Thompson to be pretty vanilla and not really bringing much to the film. Granted, the material they had to work with feels a bit lackluster, but I had hoped they would rise to the occasion.
Also, despite the pedigree of the visual effects companies, that element was more underwhelming than I hoped it would be. That isn’t to say the effects were bad, but they just didn’t feel like the top-notch work that has been seen in other films. I don’t know if this is due to a lack of time or a lack of budget, but it definitely feels like there was a conscious decision to downplay the budget here. I was pleasantly surprised to see more non-CGI special effects than I expected, but there was a still a fair amount of CGI overall. Sadly, this didn’t transition to there being more action in the film as I had hoped; in fact, there might have been less action than in the Twilight movies. The extra time is spent on “character development,” but that ends up being mostly just extra twists.
Ultimately, the movie ended up feeling a bit bland, but not bland in the way I had originally anticipated. If they do proceed forward with the series, I’m still curious to see what happens with the development of Englert’s and Ehrenreich’s characters, though it isn’t really clear where to take them from here. Beautiful Creatures is far from the pleasant surprise I had wished it would be, but also not the trainwreck I feared it might be.
Final Grade: C+