One of the most common and unshakable notions about film critics is that we love to write scathing, negative reviews, and while I cannot speak for my colleagues, I personally believe that nothing could be further from the truth. In most cases, writing a bad review brings me no pleasure whatsoever, but is instead an utterly depressing chore that makes me question why I started reviewing films in the first place. I did so because I love movies, not because I wish to wallow in the medium’s failings, and while I feel warning the public against lamentable cinematic efforts is an important part of this job, having to continue focusing on a bad movie long after I leave the theatre only makes me increasingly bitter and resentful towards the title in question. Negative reviews may be necessary, and they are occasionally fun to read or write, but make no mistake – I would always prefer to write about something I love than something I hate.
I say this to create a proper context for my opinion of this particularly wretched film, to make it absolutely clear that I take not an ounce of delight or satisfaction in reporting that Beautiful Creatures is easily one of the worst films I have ever watched for review. Over the course of two entirely excruciating hours, the film makes just about every mistake a movie could possibly make; it is a painful, insulting experience from start to finish, a hollow, calculated piece of studio-manufactured garbage designed not to enlighten or entertain, but to cash in on the Twilight fad before interest in supernatural tween romances dries up entirely.
Yes, Twilight. Just when I thought I had written my last words about the franchise, I must invoke its sordid name once more, for Beautiful Creatures is clearly shaped around the general structure of the first Twilight film and novel at every turn. Just swap out witches for vampires, reverse the genders of the main characters, and add in a staggering amount of contempt for southern America, and you will have a mostly precise idea of what Beautiful Creatures is about. Every step in the plot progression is similar, each point in the core romance echoes Bella and Edward, the characters are equally lifeless, and the story is just as feather-light as its forbearer.
The only meaningful difference? Twilight, in any form, is much, much, much better than this.
I know. I am just as surprised I typed those words as you are, and more than a little depressed.
The bitter, needless revulsion for the American south is what really gets me. It boggles my mind that a major studio could, in the year 2013, release a film built so completely around mocking and belittling an entire culture and its people. As a politically left-wing atheist, I stand quite far from the southern stereotype the film ridicules, and yet I could not help but be offended by the way Beautiful Creatures presents small-town people of faith as crass, cruel, mean-spirited, bigoted ignoramuses who uniformly lament the outcome of the Civil War. I have no doubt people like this exist, but they are in the minority – and certainly not confined just to small southern cities – and it is ridiculous for this worthless, asinine film to peddle such derision the way it does.
The offensive, overblown southern backdrop colors every single aspect of the film – including countless awful attempts at ‘comedy’ – creating a dense, unpleasant atmosphere of spite that is immediately alienating. It even extends to basic performance choices, as every actor is saddled with a terrible, cartoonish, unmanageable southern drawl that should legally count as a form of aural torture.
Not that I have any confidence this or any other cast could make anything out of the material had they the chance to speak naturally. Alden Ehrenreich is a total blank as the lead, Ethan, a charisma vacuum incapable of doing anything more than mugging broadly for the camera. Alice Englert is better as romantic interest and resident young witch – or “Caster,” as the film prefers to call them – Lena, but she comes across as disinterested and detached, imbuing the character with all the personality of a rock, if that.
They are surrounded by some big names and respected talent, including Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, and Emmy Rossum, but these are paycheck performances at best. Irons’ only real interest in the material seems to be his constant attempts to wrestle his thick British accent into something recognizably southern, but the results are disastrous, failing even to rise to the level of campy fun, a la his German patter in Die Hard With a Vengeance.
The story is a total non-starter, an unfocused mess of generic postmodern fantasy and inauthentic teen angst that plays out over the most protracted, needlessly drawn out two hours one is ever likely to see. The film is not merely languid, but utterly comatose, with each stilted, awkwardly executed scene tottering slowly in circles, repeating the point over and over and over again just to kill time. Coupled with a completely absent sense of focus and perspective, Beautiful Creatures is an unforgiving endurance run, the kind of film for which time seems to slow to an agonizing, unending crawl.
Every last problem that plagued the Twilight films is present and accounted for, but heightened to even greater degrees. Bella Swan may have lacked any significant agency, but Beautiful Creatures, with all its talk of destiny, fate, and prophecies, renders its leads useless from the get-go. As indicated by barrages of nonsensical magic technobabble, Ethan and Lena are quite literally ‘meant’ to be together, and have no significant role to play in any of the action as a result. Thanks to the mythology behind the “Casters” – wherein women are naturally predisposed to become evil, world-destroying monsters when they turn 16 – viewers are also treated to a broad, disgusting dose of misogyny that makes Twilight look positively progressive.
The only nice thing that can possibly be said about the film is that it features decent cinematography from frequent Tim Burton collaborator Philippe Rousselot. The man is undeniably talented, and even phoning it in here, the movie looks nice. But writer/director Richard LaGravanese fails utterly in both his primary duties, and every other aspect of the production, from music to production design, is dull, lifeless, and derivative.
I found not an ounce of enjoyment watching Beautiful Creatures, and gained even less out of panning it in this review. The film is hollow, a cold studio calculation gone horribly wrong, and leaves me completely apathetic towards the notion of returning to the theatre any time soon. Bad movies, especially ones that fail on such a vast and total scale, only harm my enthusiasm for the medium, and I imagine the same goes for the rest of the viewing public. In a time when audiences are increasingly ignoring multiplexes in favor of alternative forms of distribution and more personalized viewing, I would think studios might like to keep this in mind before releasing this sort of garbage. Effort will attract fans and followers, but lazy, bigoted waste such as this only compounds our increasing industry-wide apathy.