Beautiful Creatures (2013)
Movie Review by Debbie Winkler
Series: Beautiful Creatures #1
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Release Date: 14 February 2013
Length: 124 minutes
Movie Rating: PG-13
View Format: Movie Theater
Related Reviews: Beautiful Creatures Book #1 – Beautiful Creatures
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) can’t wait to escape his small South Carolina town until the mysterious Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) moves into town. The niece of the Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), the town recluse, Lena fascinates Ethan and he finds that he cannot stay away from her, despite warnings from everyone in town. Strange things seem to happen whenever Lena is around so it doesn’t surprise Ethan to learn that the Ravenwood/Duchannes family are Casters with special powers and abilities. Ethan struggles to support Lena as she seeks a way to avoid the family curse on her rapidly approaching sixteenth birthday, but only Lena can find a way to ensure she is claimed by the Light.
It is always difficult to watch movies that are based on beloved book series and Beautiful Creatures is no exception. There were a lot of things that they changed that I felt were unnecessary or unhelpful (being juniors in high school instead of sophomores, having the Book of Moons only available for reading in the library so the library is open all the time, etc.), but there were also some things that I truly enjoyed about the movie. If you are a die-hard fan of the Beautiful Creatures book series, there are a lot of changes in the movie that will drive you crazy! That said, if you have not read the book series, you should enjoy this movie for what it is – a teen paranormal romance movie. The story has been heavily rewritten, but it all makes sense in a movie setting. I completely understand that there is no way to turn a 550+ page book into a two-hour movie so there were a lot of cuts that needed to be made in the plot. Fine, I get that. I even understand cosmetic changes in the characters of the book to fit the available actors and talent pool. What I don’t understand is completely changing the ending and tweaking the powers of the Ravenwood/Duchannes family.
On the good side, the movie really hits the right note as far as atmosphere is concerned. The Gothic touches of the town of Gatlin, South Carolina were really well done. I particularly enjoyed the fact that they kept the font of the books for the title of the movie and incorporated this in the credits and the gates of Ravenwood itself. The cinematography was well done and helped highlight the movie and the characters. I watch movies like Beautiful Creatures in the movie theater to ensure that I can enjoy and appreciate the wide format and beautiful scenery so I was not disappointed with this one! The special effects were pretty good. There were a few moments of awkwardness where it didn’t seem like the characters were really casting the spells, but they appeared realistic, for the most part. The yellow eyes of the Dark Casters were particularly striking and I liked how they were not just yellow, but almost fiery. The costumes were also nicely done. I love that they made a moment for Lena at the end where she got to get all dressed up. She looked gorgeous in that gown and the scene of her running across the battlefield to find Ethan in this flowing gown was one of the iconic moments of the movie for me! The music was stunning, which really added to my enjoyment of the film. There are a few new songs complete with lyrics and some lovely instrumental soundtracks, as well. Unfortunately, the song Sixteen Moons is not featured, which was a shame as the lyrics were already written if they pulled it from the book.
On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised with the high-quality acting in this movie. I have learned to expect less than I should when I am watching teen paranormal movies so I was delighted to enjoy the talented cast. Granted, the supporting characters are stronger than the leads, but the leads weren’t that bad. Alden Ehrenreich plays Ethan, a sweet Southern boy who falls in love with Alice Englert’s Lena Duchannes. Lena is a powerful Natural Caster with unexpected powers who can change the world based on which power she chooses – Light or Dark. These two fall in love, even though Casters and Mortals do not mix well, and I felt like it was a believable relationship. It starts off awkward and uncertain and develops into something surprisingly strong for a pair of sixteen year olds. Alden Ehrenreich has that teen awkwardness and slightly self conscious awareness of a boy with a cute girl around down pat. He has an appealing Southern accent and was believable in his role as a small town boy looking for something more in life. Alice Englert was a bit more abrasive than I expected her to be and she was pretty tough on Ethan, who was only trying to help her, but I think that she captured the heart and soul of Lena’s character as I understand it from the books.
The adults far outshined the teens, however, and Emmy Rossum was stunning as Ridley, Lena’s cousin. I thought I recognized her in the role, but had to wait and see the credits to make sure. I always think of Emmy Rossum as a sweet, shy girl, but she was anything but as Ridley! Ridley is a sexy Siren who can persuade Mortals, particularly men to do anything she wants. She hooks her talons into Link (Thomas Mann), Ethan’s best friend and unwitting dupe in Ridley’s plot to see Lena chooses the Dark. Jeremy Irons overpowers everyone on screen when he is a scene and I really loved him as Macon Ravenwood. He captured Macon’s strength and tenderness and I loved his outfits! He was smooth and sexy in a dark, slightly intimidating kind of way and I thought he was excellent in this role. Emma Thompson was a delightful surprise as Mrs. Lincoln, Link’s mother. About halfway through the movie, we learn that Mrs. Lincoln has been possessed by Sarafine, Lena’s Dark Caster mother, and I thought that Emma Thompson captured the sinister villain trapped in a super-conservative housewife’s body perfectly. Emma Thompson’s scene with Jeremy Irons in the church was one of my favorites. She really captured a feeling of crazy for Sarafine’s character that was creepy and appealing at the same time. Viola Davis was a bit of a disappointment in the role of Amma. I felt like she was underutilized in this role and she didn’t bring anything special to the screen like she did in The Help. This was too bad as the role of Amma, which is really the role of Amma and Aunt Marian combined, was a meaty one. Amma is a voodoo priestess who talks to her ancestors and has powerful Seer abilities. In the movie, she is also a Keeper and maintains the Caster library that lies underneath the town of Gatlin. Viola Davis didn’t really have a moment in this movie, but she was solid in her role. Eileen Atkins as Lena’s Gramma and Margo Martindale as Aunt Del were a hoot. They really made the most of the scenes that they were in and brought some much-needed levity to this rather serious movie.
My main complaints with the movie lie in some serious deviations from the book that just didn’t make sense to me. Why do you purchase the rights to a book series and then just use the broad strokes of the novel? It is weird that studios don’t seem to get the fact that the movies will be more popular and make more money if they align closely to the books themselves. The broad strokes of Beautiful Creatures can be found in the movie and the characters are close enough to recognize, though many of them don’t cosmetically resemble the book characters. It didn’t bother me that Ridley didn’t have blonde hair or that Ethan’s hair didn’t get in his eyes all of the time, but a few other things really bugged me. There were some details that they changed in the movie that would have made a big difference to fans of the books. Most of them had to do with the magical powers of the Casters. Ridley is a Siren and, while she is a Dark Caster, she never seemed evil in the books. In the movie, they have her killing a boy the very night she turned Dark, but, in the books, she uses her powers to avoid doing work and tease the boys. I really, really missed Ridley’s lollipop in the movie! Would it have killed them to have her sucking on the lollipop as she worked her powers to give us a little link to the books?! Macon Ravenwood’s powers were completely different in the movie, as well. In the books, Macon is an incubus and can only come out at night. Macon feeds on the dreams of humans, can turn to vapor and travel with a thought. It was a real shock to see Macon during the day in this first movie and I also felt like he was a lot meaner in the movie than in the book. Macon wasn’t dead set against Ethan and Lena’s relationship in the book until it was too late, but he was trying to drive a wedge against them from the first moment in the movie. Another magical touch that was really missing for me was the green eyes for the Light Casters. They showed the yellow eyes of the Dark Casters, but not the green eyes. Why?! This was an integral part of the book and I really missed it in the movie. It also broke my heart not to see the changing interior or Ravenwood itself. The house had such personality and life in the books that it was weird to see the main room stay static in the movie. The other detail that bugged me was Lena’s car. In the books, she drives her Uncle Macon’s hearse, not an old yellow car. Creepy, but distinctive, this car definitely set the town’s tongues wagging and I loved this touch, but it wasn’t in the movie! Many of these are little touches that would have meant so much to fans of the book and definitely would have bumped up the rating and likeability for true fans of the series.
In addition to the magical powers being off, there were some character changes that I did not appreciate and that I felt weakened the movie as a whole. In the book, Amma is an eighty-year-old woman who is as close to a grandmother as Ethan has. She is fiercely protective of Ethan and her kitchen and is always feeding Ethan huge meals. When I saw Ethan making eggs for breakfast at the beginning of the movie, I was shocked! Then I saw “Amma” or Viola Davis’s character come on-screen and I realized that they combined Amma and Marian together into one person. Ethan’s Aunt Marian was his mother’s best friend and, while no blood relation, she was family. Marian runs the public and Caster library in town and Viola Davis would have been a great casting choice for Marian, but not for Amma. There was one brief scene of Amma performing a voodoo ritual, but that was it. Why didn’t they just call her Marian and call it a day? And I missed Boo Radley so much! Book was Macon’s wolf/dog who kept an eye on Lena throughout the day when she was traveling around town. I would have loved to see this dog in the movie!
Finally, there were some huge plot changes that I did not care for, including the terrible ending! I can live without the Kelting (speaking mind to mind) as I totally understand that it is difficult to show mind powers in a movie so I was willing to let that go. They rewrote the Curse in the movie to show Genevieve Duchannes (Rachel Brosnahan) turning Dark after she cast a spell to bring her lover back to life. Now all Duchannes women are claimed for the Dark. In the book, Genevieve doesn’t kill her lover and her descendants are Cursed with the inability to Choose Light or Dark – it is Chosen for them. But what really bugged me was Link shooting Ethan at the end. In the book, Ethan and Lena completely miss the Civil War reenactment because it is on her sixteenth birthday. Instead, they end up in the cemetery fighting Serafine, Lena’s crazy Dark mother. In the book, Ethan is stabbed by Serafine and brought back to life by Lena’s Casting. Serafine is much more powerful than Lena so they were lucky that more people were not killed during the battle. Lena unknowingly casts a spell that brings Ethan back to life, but kills Macon. Ethan doesn’t remember the details of that night, but he remembers everything else. In the movie, Link and Ethan show up for the reenactment, Link shoots Ethan and kills him, only it is really a shapeshifted Macon so that the Curse will be broken. Ethan doesn’t even remember Lena as anything special after she wiped his mind of all of their memories – what!?! I was so upset at the ending and I am sure that other fans were, too. This really left a bad taste in my mouth and it was too bad as I quite enjoyed the rest of the movie. I have no idea how they are going to tie these new storylines into the next movie in the series, but it will mean a lot more changes!
So, as far as the movie is concerned, if you don’t take into account the book at all, it is a solidly enjoyable movie. The plot is fresh and original and I love the concept of a whole Caster world. I also love seeing books brought to life, even if they don’t match up to my vision of what my imagination conjured up while I was reading. Hopefully, you haven’t already read the books and can watch the movie first and then read them. I always find that reading the books first ruins the movie for me and this movie is no exception. If you are looking for an enjoyable teen paranormal romance, Beautiful Creatures definitely fits the bill!
This movie contains scenes of death and violence. A Civil War vision shows burning plantations, soldiers being shot and the battlefields with men dying. There is some strong language. Teenage sexuality is present and sex between the leads is hinted at, but not shown (heavy petting and kissing only). There is a lot of magic in the movie, including magical battles and powers that are used against humans. There are some mildly creepy and scary scenes, but these are mostly ribbons of dark surrounding people or locations that are a bit unsettling. Recommended for ages 13 and up.