Ever since the astounding success of Twilight, Hollywood has been mining young adult fiction for the next big thing. Last spring they did better than they could have imagined with Jennifer Lawrence starring vehicle, The Hunger Games. This spring, Alcon Entertainment hopes they have picked the next blockbuster with their adaptation of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s hit novel, Beautiful Creatures. I hope they haven’t set their sights to high because Beautiful Creatures doesn’t reach the heights of quality of those other films.
The small southern town of Gatlin never has anything happen in it. This is the way everyone likes it, except of course Ethan Waite (Alden Ehrenreich). Ethan wants out of the town so stuck in the past and he is counting his days to when he can escape it. Enter Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the niece of the town shut in Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), and all around outlier to the establishment that is Gatlin. Ethan quickly takes a liking to her and slowly, over the course of their school year a romance blossoms.
Lena however is more than just a social hurricane. She is special in different sense and has special powers. Lena is a witch and comes from a long line of them, or as her and her family like to call themselves, casters. On her sixteenth birthday she will be claimed by a family curse for either the light or dark. Ethan and Lena race against time to try and find a way to stop the curse, while Macon tries to protect her from his dark sister, Sarafine (Emma Thompson).
It is a cool concept for a story but the film never allows anything to breathe, rushing from one plot point to the next with little explanation and hardly any character development. And the romance between Ethan and Lena is so rushed that it never feels real that when she finally shuts him out in an effort to protect him from her, it lacks an emotional resonance. Never mind how ridiculous the film paints that scenario to be. Worst of all though is the big emotional reveal; it lacks any punch and falls like a dud. Sure Emma Thompson is great as the cackling, more than slightly crazy Sarafine but we never really feel threatened by her.
The Beautiful Creatures novel is a tale involving a forbidden romance, southern culture and of course, the occult. It might not be high brow literature but it is a fun, easy read with smartly designed characters that you grow to love over the course of the book. It has charm in spades. And despite some fine acting performances from Thompson, Irons and Englert, the film just does not.
The film lacks some of the best moments from the book, or outright diminishes their importance. It changes character roles or in one very notable case, eliminates a key character, and doesn’t do a good job of explaining their motivations. It is just not a very solid adaption. And because of this it is hard not to preemptively feel for fans of the book that will undoubtedly be drawn to the big screen spectacle and ultimately leave disappointed.