Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Cinema File #123: "Beautiful Creatures" Review

I've only seen two of the Twilight movies, the first one, which I didn't really like, and the last one, which I technically liked better, but not by much (I'm still hesitant to post a review, as I think it might be unfair considering I haven't seen the others in the series). Even so, beyond the wussification of vampires which, as I mentioned in my Warm Bodies review I have intense distaste for, I've never been able to summon the kind of outrage so many people have for that franchise. I've always just been content to ignore them, which I would have probably done with this purported ripoff if I didn't now have a movie blog in need of regular content. The similarities in story structure are obvious, but this witch-centered take on horror romance does not seem to me at least to rise to the level of Twilight in terms of all the things I'm supposed to hate about those movies, and while its still not necessarily all that good, Beautiful Creatures is at worst perfectly okay.

Beautiful Creatures is very much the Twilight template applied to witchcraft, with two teenagers, one mortal, the other a supernatural being, finding unrealistically fast highschool love, but its executed about as well as I think is possible. In this case the genders are reversed with the human being a guy and the girl having all the weird powers, and right away I think this makes for a better dynamic, though I may just be biased towards male protagonists. Its as schmaltzy and cloying as you would expect, but the characters are a little more personable and certainly less creepy than Bella and Edward, so you buy their romance a little more easily. Also, the choice of witches as the supernatural element works a lot better, because beyond calling them "casters" instead of "witches," it doesn't require turning them into something other than what they are, as is the case with Twilight and Warm Bodies, which must insult me as a horror fan to tell their stories. When the evil witches enter the movie, they are able to retain their menace, because the concept of witches and witchcraft is broad enough that my nerd hackles aren't an impediment for enjoying the story.

A major aspect of the narrative involves an upcoming ceremony that all female witches must go through when they reach a certain age, whereupon they are "claimed," their powers manifesting fully for the first time, forcibly geared either towards good or evil. I've heard some criticism of the movie for this plot device being misogynistic, because this is a process that only applies to the women, while the men can freely choose whether to be good or evil, but I actually thought it added an interesting dimension to the story. The uncomfortable, rapey nature of the claiming is clearly intentional and conflates the idea of witches in the real world with the real-life history of witchcraft accusations, which for the most part came down to legal attempts to subjugate women. In addition to adding a level of tension beyond the good witch vs. bad witch plot, it leaves the villainous members of this witch family with a bit of sympathy even as they are by virtue of the story unrepentantly evil.

Beyond the general limitations of this formula, the angsty melodrama and such, the biggest flaw of this film is the setting, specifically, the Southern atmosphere on display. In the abstract, I think much like we've seen in True Blood, this sensibility has a lot of potential in terms of counterbalancing the macabre and supernatural with an almost otherworldly decay of Southern elegance. In practice however, it isn't done well. At all. There is literally not one authentic sounding Southern accent in this entire movie, and many including the main male character and especially Jeremy Irons are downright laughable. Apart from the accents, where the Southern element is emphasized, it is in such a ham fisted and obvious way (a major set piece centered around a Civil War re-enactment!) so as to lack any of the sleazy darkness inherent to this backdrop.

That being said, I can't say I was ever really bored, and certainly never caught in the throws of any knee jerk nerd rage. Though its a genre that I'm not particularly fond of, Beautiful Creatures is in my opinion by far the best example of this trend of movies based on young adult novels centered around a supernatural romance, at least that I've seen. Emma Thompson and Emmy Rossum are good villainesses, even though I wanted a lot more of them, and the depiction of magic, while also less than what I would have liked, was effective for what was there. This movie seems to be bombing due to the perception labeling it as a Twilight clone, and I can't argue with that assessment, but I can say that there will probably be a lot more of these clones going forward, and they're only going to get worse from here. Boyfriends in search of a date movie that won't make them want to kill themselves, you might want to take this opportunity while you can get it.

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