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The Viewing Room: At least there weren't vampires

Movie columnist Hannah Bedenkop on the infinitely un-exciting ‘Beautiful Creatures'

Published Feb. 21, 2013

Paranormal teen romance is a real genre now. I’m serious. Bookstores have entire sections devoted to it. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, and it makes me want to weep with bitterness. What is it about high school-age werewolves and vampires and yetis inexplicably falling in love with each other that has our generation in such a tizzy? Is there a reason authors try to resonate with the young adult audience by using the supernatural as their go-to shtick?

“Beautiful Creatures” is the latest installment in the saga of America’s obsession with paranormal teen romance. The movie was adapted from a series of novels by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and I’ve been told the series isn't half bad. But the movie is so spectacularly unimpressive, I’m having a hard time remembering anything about it. And I just saw it three days ago.

The movie’s protagonists are average human Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) and powerful witch Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), who is the mysterious niece of town patriarch/pariah Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). And since there’s not much else to do in the fictional town of Gatlin, S.C., Ethan and Lena fall in love. It takes like two seconds for them to go completely mad for each other, so they’re probably fated lovers or something.

Alas, their love cannot be. It normally can’t in a paranormal teen romance. This time around it’s because Lena is approaching her sixteenth birthday, the day on which her witchy powers will be claimed for either the light or the dark. And her family is cursed to be dark. And Ethan’s presence complicates things for some reason.

The rest of the film consists of Emmy Rossum chewing scenery playing Lena’s dark witch cousin Ridley, and Jeremy Irons inexplicably switching accents in the middle of a scene, presumably just to see if anyone would notice. There’s also a surprising lack of actual magic for a movie about witches.

There are quite a few very seasoned and well-respected actors in this movie, but none of them seem to be putting in any kind of effort. Ehrenreich, who plays Ethan – bless him, he tries so hard – is perhaps the most valuable player, with Rossum coming in at a close second. Viola Davis and Emma Thompson didn’t bother doing much with their supporting roles, and they looked about as bored as I felt. Relative newcomer Alice Englert didn’t make too much of an impression, and the chemistry between the two leads was palpable — but just barely.

The special effects were laughably bad in places, and the score was so blah it actually took away from what little the narrative had going for it. I didn’t really have a problem with the dialogue, but the overarching story had absolutely no flow. The entire film feels incredibly disjointed, like a series of vignettes instead of one ongoing story.

Basically, “Beautiful Creatures” felt less like a real movie and more like a half-hearted attempt at kick-starting a franchise. It was somewhat formulaic, and there just wasn’t enough intrigue or emotion present to merit a second viewing, much less a sequel.

Now I don’t actively hate “Beautiful Creatures” for being a ridiculous and misogynistic attempt at romance, which is more than I can say for other franchises that might fall under the classification of paranormal teen romance. Lena proves that she still has a personality when she’s away from Ethan, and Ethan doesn’t try to control Lena under the pretense of love.

So while I appreciate the attempts at showing genuine feeling, it just didn’t work out so well. I know the people behind the movie had hoped it would be the next big thing, but I don’t see that happening. There’s really nothing new to see here, and it’s not made well enough for its triteness to be forgotten.

I’m going to give “Beautiful Creatures” two and a half spell books out of five. It was better written and better acted than your average paranormal teen romance, but it was nothing special by any means.

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