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Friday, February 15, 2013

Beautiful Creatures



Adapted from a young adult novel series about teen witches, Beautiful Creatures deliberately treads the familiar, flattened-out grounds of forbidden teen love, finding your true destiny ("Claim Yourself" is the moral, whatever that means, as if your destiny is in a coat check), and mind-numbing boredom. Remember in Twilight: New Moon when Kristen Stewart spent what felt like forty seven hours sitting around moping? The bulk of Beautiful Creatures is like that, involving a very Stewart-y teen witch (Alice Englert) sullenly wishing she doesn't turn evil. That's the plot of the movie, by the way: A teenage girl might become evil and everyone has to wait and see if that happens or not.

Beautiful Creatures bombards with thinly-devised, sometimes contradictory nonsense rules: You see, there is a race of magical witches who insist on being called Casters, and when they turn 16 (or is it just when the girl Casters turn 16?) they have to have some kind of ritual where their "true nature" is exposed and they can become either good or evil. The movie never indicates what the consequences are of either eventuality; the "good" Casters like Jeremys Iron just sit around wearing dandy clothes while playing piano while the "evil" Casters like Emmy Rossum drive around in BMW convertibles and seduce teen yokels in alleyways. The Casters have awesome magical powers but the main thing they use it for is interior decorating; they seem to change the furniture in their Gothic Southern Mansion every day. (The first time we see the interior of Ravenwood Manor, it looked like a collage of all of the covers of the "Twilight" books.) There is also Viola Davis, who plays The Help. Davis has three jobs; she's a housekeeper and she's also two kinds of librarians. She manages a regular library and the Diagon Alley magical library in underground tunnels that run "beneath the entire country".

All of this nothingness happens in a Bible-thumping South Carolina backwoods town that revels in nothingness and book-banning. Beautiful Creatures' mortal hero is Alden Ehrenreich, an aw-shucks good ol' boy who reads Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Bukowski. His dream is to visit New York City, then come back. When the alternative is dating the hot crazy Christian "popular" girl in high school, Ehrenreich instead falls for Englert, the mysterious raven-haired new girl who lives in the Gothic manor outside of town that all the locals regularly gather in church to protest. Englert has a magical tattoo on her hand counting down the days until her date with destiny, and she has an evil specter of a mother who possesses the body of Emma Thompson for shits and giggles. Because he's the only boy who's ever talked to her, Englert falls hard for Ehrenreich's chicken-fried charms and awkward guffaws, but she's forbidden from being with a mortal because it's bad, somehow. Her uncle Jeremys Iron occasionally tries magically mind fucking Ehrenreich with his supernatural powers and by twinkling the ivories on his grand piano, but none of it works and Ehrenreich still wants to date Englert.

Beautiful Creatures commits that cardinal sin of being a poor, dumb movie that constantly references better books and better movies so that it seems smarter than it is. Ehrenreich, a poor man's Romeo, woos Englert by drawling on and on about the books he likes to read and all the movies he either has seen or wants to see. Englert doesn't have a thought in her head other than "I don't wanna turn evil like my mama" while staring at grass and watching the tattoo clock count down on her hand. There's the obligatory third act break up that sets up a tragic death of one of the young lovers, but it's a switcheroo. When the moment comes that the skies turn black and Englert faces the pivotal moment of becoming good or evil, there's no tension. She gets her full powers and is way more powerful than her evil mother who wants to control her, who turns out not to be any kind of threat at all. Instead of its generic, meaningless title, a more accurate title for Beautiful Creatures would be Twilight's Leavings. This here is the stuff so banal it was actually left out of Twilight.