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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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.

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Beautiful Creatures (2013)
US/Can release: Feb 14 2013
UK/Ire release: Feb 13 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated FSH (contains female self-hatred)
MPAA: rated PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material
BBFC: rated 12A (contains moderate language and threat)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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

  • Is it possible that the creators (of the book or film) were satirizing the notion that there are only two types of women?

  • Vivien

    The book is different…it’s not that all female Casters have no say; that’s only in Lena’s family, and it’s because one of them, during the Civil War, misused dark magic to bring her lover back from the dead and thus brought on a family curse–the whole Claiming thing. And the curse could maybe be broken. So…it’s more complicated than the film version wherein girls = passive…if anything, it suggests it’s wrong for a woman to give her selfhood up for a man, and that it will take a very strong woman to break that curse.

  • RogerBW

    Trailer looked promising, indeed! Darn. I hate it when this happens.

  • There’s no sense of that in the film. At all.

  • It doesn’t feel like satire. It feels like it’s supposed to be swoons-inducing romantic.

  • Amy

    Why would young girls hate their humanity because of this film? Lena clearly WANTS to be human and the film is about how hard it is NOT to be human. Did you pay attention?

  • Do you not realize that free will is a pretty fundamental human quality? Do you not realize that telling girls that sex and love are bad is hurtful? Do you not realize that tellings girls that some girls are inherently evil is bad?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    There was one scene between Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons in the trailer that looked like it might be worth seeing. Did that pan out, or was it just cringe-inducing levels of scenery chewing?

  • The latter. :->

  • judes

    Yup – we are definitely going backwards it seems. Discouraging.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Weeeeeelllllll shit…

  • CB

    Oh man. While it was obviously going to be schlock, I at least thought this Twilight cash-in might be a slight step forward by putting a girl in the role of the one with the supernatural power and her boyfriend being the normal human. Well I sure was stupid, wasn’t I?

  • SN

    Very funny and insightful review! I was afraid the movie would be like that. Even in the trailer, Ridley didn’t seem like she used her power for anything but slutting it up with guys, so I don’t know what really defines a light caster or a dark one, except for fallen or virtuous woman like you’ve pointed out. The only time the trailer had any clarity was when Emma Thompson tells us that she wants to use her dark caster power to take over the mortal world (but that seemed to be of her independent choice; no one else seemed to be involved in it…and its a pretty general and typical cartoon villain motive). Which makes me think: so even if Lena chose light, what would SHE do? I assume that if she chose light or light chose her… she still couldn’t be with Ethan, am I right?

  • This, from the official site for the series, appears to suggest that even if it’s just the women in Lena’s family who cannot chose, the idea that “you” are inherently good or evil and that “you” have no say in the matter is somehow appealing to the reader. This lack of free will is something that the reader is intended to empathize with in Lena, even to the point that it’s somehow “cool.”


    ETA: This is the site for the *book* series, that is. Which suggests that it is the authors to blame for this, and that LaGravenese faithfully transferred this aspect to the screen.

  • Isobel_A

    Huh. I didn’t think it was possible for Emma Thompson to make a bad film – guess this proves me wrong!

  • LaSargenta

    Oh I hated Remains of the Day! I know, that’s sacrilege…but, all she did throughout the film was bawl or mope or both.

  • Char

    This is from the website for the books (the copy is for the first book, Beautiful Creatures):

    “Ethan Wate is haunted by dreams of a girl he’s never met. When Lena Duchannes moves into his small southern town of Gatlin County, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her. And he is determined to uncover the strange connection between them, even if it means uncovering the one secret that could change everything.”

    So… not only does she not get to choose between light and dark, she’s not even the MAIN CHARACTER in the books?

    I’m confused.

  • Fantasyreader

    Anyone who wants to critique the movie that is fine. But blame whoever allowed this horrible deviation from the actual book. The book says nothing about the inherent nature being who they are claimed for. It is a total mystery. seeing as is the case with Lena, everyone has light or dark within. I believe that they made this movie the way they did in case it did not get a good response and they only made one. The character of Amma was not only done wrong, but was mashed together with the character of Marian, the actual librarian in the book. Amma is supposed to be a live in caretaker. She lived at home and raised Ethans father and the day Ethan was born showed up to help raise him. Also her home is Wader’s Creek not Charon Swamp or whatever they used. Macon is NOT a caster but an Incubus (yes, a form of vampire, again caused by a curse you read about in later books, but he chooses to be a light incubus and feed off mortals dreams, memories, and thoughts as opposed to blood) They completely ignored the character of Boo Radley, in the book is Macons dog and a form of eyes throughout the town. The showdown between him and Sarafine never happened, though they ruined the calling out scene as he used names and more examples than that. Sarafine was possessing Mrs.Lincoln but she has her own body and noone knows until the very end that she was doing so. The curse cannot be broken by the death of a loved one. There is no mention of the shadowing songs either receives from his mother, a pivotal part in the first three books, nor is there any Kelting, mind speak that is only possible between Casters, except the strange phenomenom that is Lena and Ethan. Locket was found wrong. Genevieve does NOT kill Ethan after she saves him, the spell doesnt last as he is revived for mere seconds before dying. Lena uses the same spell to save Ethan after Sarafine kills him with a knife and when she uses it the spell gives her Ethan but takes Macon instead.
    There is a fire that burns Greenbrier, which is supposed to be much farther from the grounds of Ravenwood manor, not across a little wall. The caster library, or Lunae Libri, is only supposed to be open on regular library holidays. Lena and Ethan dig the book out of Genevieve’s grave (they have another vision of Amma’s ancestor burying it with Genevieve) and Genevieve’s ghost (or Sheer as they are named in this series) gives the two permission. They then study the book (whose words are always present, just in Latin and other “caster” languages) together and find nothing. Aforementioned shadowing songs, among other things, is how Lena learns she can claim herself. The split eye thing doesnt happen til her seventeenth birthday; she doesnt get claimed either way on her sixteenth. Also, all Light Casters are supposed to have bright green eyes and Dark have the golden. Not just when they choose to but always. It is the easiest way to identify each other. Macon’s should be black, being an incubus. Even the character of the history teacher was done wrong. The teacher who is supposed to have a glass eye, not a patch, is the English teacher, again somewhat important in later books. Honey Hill is not when Green Brier burned, that all happened during Shermans march to the sea. And Macon did love Ethans mother, but that was before the Change when he became an Incubus. She moved to Gatlin after marrying Ethans father. The brownie scene was accurate save for Sarafine popping out. Oh, and Amma is a Seer but also practices a type of voodoo and her charms are what keeps Sarafine out, not Lena. Also, there are three other ancestors Amma calls upon, and Uncle Abner also likes his shot of Wild Turkey. As a movie, I would watch it again. But compared to the book, its a 1 or 2, basically keeping to the main story line and thats it. Ridley was even played wrong, as her signature is cherry lollipops, and Link is not used to “kill” Ethan, as afore stated. They completely left out Link’s hopeless band and the fact that Ethan doesnt own a car, the “beater” is Link’s. They also never even touch on Larkin’s, Aunt Del’s, or Gramma’s powers, as each caster has a specialty. Never mentions the words cataclyst (main affinity to fire), a natural who is claimed dark -Sarafine, or a Natural, what Lena is. Very aggravated. About every two minutes I saw something incorrect. The film was only 90 minutes. They could have gone up to an hour longer and made it much more accurately and better. This adaptation from book to movie is like Eragon all over again. And I fear, in trying to cover their asses, they are going to lose money in the long run and be unable to sell the other three movies if they are even possible to be made. For that, Ethan needs to die, so his shadow soul can haunt him. They need to introduce incubus’ for John Breed and Abraham. Need to introduce the tunnels in the Library. Just so much left out that unfortunately killed chances for the three sequels… On a last note, my husband loved it but he did not read the book first.

  • The film is most certainly not 90 minutes: it’s over two hours. And that is already way too long.

    A movie cannot include everything from a book. (Do you honestly think including Link’s band was important?)

    What do you mean by “trying to cover their asses”?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Paragraphs breaks are your friend

  • Lady Kaede

    Hear, hear (and thank you very much).

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