Beautiful Creatures (review)

Beautiful Creatures red light Alden Ehrenreich Alice Englert

I’m “biast” (pro): the trailer looked promising

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

So let me get this straight. In the magical world of Beautiful Creatures, when a “caster” girl turns 16, she is “claimed” by either the “Light” or the “Dark.” She has no say in the matter — she’s either inherently good or inherently evil, and that’s that. She has no free will. She has no control over her own fate. The claiming is merely the revelation of her unchangeable base nature.

Boys get to choose, of course. Boys are not inherently good or inherently evil, but are masters of their own destiny.

If movies could be not tossed aside lightly but thrown with great force, this would be one demanding that response.

And so here we have the story of 15-year-old caster Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), just months away from her claiming. She’s worried about being claimed by the Dark, so what should she do to avoid such a fate? Well, for one — and the primary concern of the plot here — she needs to stay away from the nonmagical “mortal” boy she’s fallen for. Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is the oddball in his middle-of-nowhere South Carolina “town of buttermilk minds” — he reads books. Banned books, even. (No word on whether the town elders ban Amazon delivers. I guess that’s how Ethan acquires his reading material.) It’s not reading banned books that makes Ethan a danger to Lena: it’s the mere fact that she wants him. Sexual desire for girl casters is bad; chastity is good. We know this is true because we also meet Lena’s Dark cousin, Ridley (Emmy Rossum: Poseidon, The Phantom of the Opera), who is a ridiculous parody of “sexy” and “seductive,” what with her flowing lingerie-as-streetwear and her power, which is all about being able to make men do whatever she wants with her irresistible sexy lady sexiness.

If the town stick-up-her-butt crazy Jesus freak here, Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson: Brave, Men in Black III), who rails against Satanists and liberals and atheists and Greenpeace while sporting an awful church-lady hat, had herself concocted a story that she thought decent and proper for impressionable young girls, to warn them away from the whoredom that tempts them, she might come up with something like this.

(The mortal girls in town are universally horrible evil witches-without-magic. Which is why one teenaged mortal boy gets to hate on them: “Some girls are just mad dogs — you can either run or shoot.” It’s a great night out at the movies, ladies, so bring your friends!)

But wait! If caster girls cannot choose Dark or Light, how could Lena avoid whatever her fate is going to be? Why not just get right to the fucking with Ethan, cuz she’s doomed to the Dark anyway just for wanting to, right? Well, there’s a “curse” involved that has something to do with something. If she wasn’t already doomed to whatever she’s doomed to with the claiming and her fixed womanly nature alone, the curse ensures that being with Ethan means she’s extra doomed.

The twisted layers of self-hatred that must have been involved in creating such convoluted fictional machinations to guarantee that a teenaged girl character will be this tormented over her own sexuality scarcely bear pondering. It’s self-hatred because the novel this is based on [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] was written by two women, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Or maybe we should blame director and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (Water for Elephants, P.S. I Love You)? Certainly, there is nothing to this caster world that we see here that isn’t about dividing women into Good and Bad, Virtuous and Fallen, Virgin and Whore. We have no sense of what casters use their magic for: they appear to do nothing but prance around the manse in goth getups behaving in a manner so histrionic that Tennessee Williams characters would be embarrassed. We have no idea how the casters interact with the world: Lena’s uncle (Jeremy Irons: Margin Call, Eragon), whom she’s just come to live with, is a recluse. There are the slightest of suggestions that there is a larger caster culture and there is some resentment with how casters are overshadowed by the less powerful but (presumably) more numerous mortals, but what that means is a mystery. There aren’t even any casters here who aren’t Lena’s family. For all we can see, they could be the only ones who exist.

There are inescapable Harry Potter comparisons to be made here, none of them flattering to Beautiful Creatures. But this is clearly hoping to ride on Twilight’s supernatural star-crossed sex-free teenage-romance coattails. And if we had any hope that Twilight was an aberration, we can put that rest. Apparently, fantasies for young girls that teach them to hate their own humanity are officially a thing now.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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