Ethan Wate has lived his whole life in the sleepy little town of Gatlin, S.C. It's a mossy-treed burg with 12 churches, one library and a dinky little movie theater—a theater that shows movies months after they've closed everywhere else, no less. Is it any wonder that at age 16, Ethan has already applied to every college he can think of?
He wants out, you see. And the sooner, the better.
Then a new girl moves into town. And you're not going to believe this, but she's the girl of his dreams. Literally. I mean Ethan's actually been dreaming about her for a long while now. He can never quite see her face in those sleepy interludes, but he's sure it's her. Lena. Lena Duchannes.
This dark-haired, quiet girl captivates Ethan. But for some reason he can't seem to get her to talk with him no matter how much charm he pours on. And that's rarely a problem for him. He's cute, smart, an admired athlete. Still, no matter what he tries, she just keeps her head down and walks quickly off.
Of course, the rest of the kids at school aren't helping. They're constantly picking on her and calling out stupid stuff in her general direction. It's all because she moved into the Ravenwood mansion with her uncle, Macon. But so what if her uncle's a recluse? So what if few people have ever seen him and rumors are swirling around that he's a devil worshiper? That's all busybody nonsense and Ethan knows it.
One day, though—while a gaggle of idiotic girls verbally jab at Lena and loudly "pray" that God will keep them safe from her evil—windows implode in the classroom. Suddenly everyone is screaming and running. And now the swirling rumor is that Lena was once institutionalized with mental illness.
Quite frankly, Ethan finds himself fed up with it all.
It was a storm that blew in, that's all. What are these people blabbering about? Are they all crazy? She's only a girl! A quiet, sweet girl who's just, well, beautiful, if you ask him. People in this foolish little town are insane. He was sitting right behind Lena when that wall of windows blew in. She didn't throw anything. She didn't pull out a hand grenade. She didn't even look at the windows.
Ha! What do they think she is … a witch?
There's no question that Ethan is a good guy who's drawn to defend the ostracized Lena for all the right reasons (and a few romantic ones too, of course) from the moment she shows up. Once he wins her friendship, he continues to do so—even after he realizes that, yes, she is indeed a witch (or a caster as Lena's family likes to say). Ethan also encourages Lena to think that she has the freedom to choose what will become of her life. In spite of an evil curse that is set to come to fruition on her next birthday, Ethan believes Lena can choose to remain the kind, good person she currently is.
Ethan and Lena's friendship evolves into love, of course. And they become very protective of each other, making numerous self-sacrificial choices along the way. When it appears that Ethan will be harmed because of their relationship, for instance, Lena magically causes him to forget about their attachment—willing to face her potentially horrible fate alone rather than put him in harm's way.
Although he may at first appear to be detached from everyone, even his niece, Uncle Macon demonstrates his love for Lena by quite literally sacrificing himself for her.
This is a twisted world of supernatural powers, magic and spell casting. The witches/casters possess a bevy of unique powers that range from physical transformation to matter manipulation to control of the weather to even (possibly) immortality. The movie never makes it clear where these abilities come from. Indeed, Ethan even comes right out and asks if Satan has anything to do with Lena's powers. She laughs his question off as "such a mortal thing to say."
She may laugh, but the big ongoing controversy in her life centers on whether she'll turn to light or dark magic on her 16th birthday—the caster's age of claiming. And her evil mother, Sarafine, believes a curse will assure that it will be darkness. Note that this powerful caster takes possession of a local woman's body so she can hide in plain sight while magically manipulating the situation.
Ethan's housekeeper, Amma, has her own brand of supernatural "gifting." Again it's undefined, but she's called a seer, has voodoo-like symbols carved into the flesh of her back and maintains the ability to communicate with the dead. She is also the keeper of a library of caster secrets … and a churchgoer. Ethan asks her, "How can you believe in all this and still believe in God?" She answers, "God created all things, didn't He? It's only man who decides what's a mistake."
Speaking of those souls who frequently darken church doors, most carry around large crosses and shout out to Jesus as they're routinely pointed to as hypocrites and fools. Several girls at school use the name of Jesus as a means of taunting Lena. One of them tells Ethan, "I pray every night that you don't go straight to hell!"
Ethan's best friend, Link, says that his Bible-thumping mother "damned" his daddy to hell so many times that it drove the man to drink and an early demise. "How does loving Jesus make that woman so crazy?" he asks. Later, it's that very woman who is possessed by Sarafine, and we see her spit out vitriol and claim that God will use His hellfire to burn liberals, gays and fornicators.
Sarafine makes it a point to laughingly announce (while dabbing the church's holy water behind her ears) that the idea of God was a purely human invention. It's mentioned that a another church banned a number of classic novels—the very books Ethan reads religiously. Of the library where he gets them, Ethan says, "This is my church, this is where my family comes to worship what's holy: ideas."
Although Lena and Ethan eventually become quite passionate in their feelings for each other, they refrain from getting overly heated or physical. We see them kiss lightly several times. (Ethan sees Lena in her nightgown on one occasion.)
Lena's cousin Ridley, however, is purported to have the supernatural powers of a siren, and she uses them to entice several young men, including Ethan. Ridley often dresses in formfitting, cleavage-baring clothes, including a tight miniskirt outfit and a lace dress that's very see-through in all but the most critical places. She chooses Link as her consort, and we see them kissing passionately several times.
Ridley's not the only girl who wears slinky ensembles. And Link lets loose a veiled sexual joke about oral sex.
Ridley uses her powers to summon a teen onto a railroad track … where he stands transfixed until a train barrels over him. (The camera cuts away at impact.) In a ghostly vision of the past, Southern homes are burned and a Confederate soldier is shot in the back by a group of Union soldiers. A witch then kills the armed men—causing them to crumble where they stand—with a blazing-eyed glance.
As mentioned, a large wall of windows shatters inward, showering students with glass shards.
During a Civil War reenactment a teen is "shot" and another man "bleeds to death" from a chest wound. Ethan is supernaturally thrown against a bookcase. Link is thrown backward and knocked out with magical force. A sorcery-generated tornado/lightning storm blows through a field of people, tossing them in all directions and possibly even killing some of them.
Crude or Profane Language
Five or six s-words. About 10 uses of "d‑‑n" join a half-dozen uses each of "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "a‑‑." God's name is misused six or seven times, once with the aforementioned "d‑‑n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Macon pours wine at a family dinner. Teens drink beer as they walk through a rail yard. Using a spell, Uncle Macon "coaxes" Ethan to spill out a story of his future that includes becoming a drunkard and an adulterer.
Other Negative Elements
Macon Ravenwood is something of a haughty individual who claims he doesn't go into town much because he requires "good breeding, reasonable intelligence and passable hygiene" from those with whom he converses. He says the town is generally made up of "sexually frustrated housewives with miniscule minds and voluminous backsides."
Supernatural romance plucked from the pages of young adult novels has been a popular Hollywood go-to for, oh, a while now. Why settle for a humdrum high school love story between two pretty but normal kids, the logic goes, when you can toss in vampires or werewolves or wand-waving magicians or, hey, even a zombie or two? So it's no surprise that the bestselling book Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl has now made its way to the cinema.
This YA fave captivates its readers with a solid introspective narration from a gentle, self-sacrificial smart-jock protagonist. It stages its action in an authentic-feeling deep-South-middle-of-nowhere high school and, of course, packs in lots of heavy sighing amid the good-witch-in-love romance. It gives us both a mess of spiritually contorted problems and a certain heart-thumping charm as it slowly churns and builds toward a bombastic finale.
Even the book's staunchest fans, however, will have to admit that transporting a story from the printed page to the movie screen can often grime up a good tale, let alone an already troubled one. Those the transition can turn terrible. And such is the case here.
The story elements are haphazardly crammed in. The tale's historical ties and magicking explanations don't always make sense. And the love-wins-out spell-blasting ending, well, that lacks magic of a totally different kind.
More grievous than that is Beautiful Creatures' handling of all things spiritual. The undefined "light and dark" hocus-pocus makes the ideas of witchcraft and necromancy seem quite appealing. Any form of Christian faith, however, is clearly labeled ridiculous and foolish.
In this witchy world, the town's Bible-thumping residents are one-dimensional simpleminded bigots while the casters are deep-thinking, well-reasoned … beautiful creatures. Spells are sublime helpmates while God is a fabricated crutch to be used as an opponent-thumping weapon at the slightest provocation.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate; Alice Englert as Lena Duchannes; Jeremy Irons as Macon Ravenwood; Viola Davis as Amma; Emmy Rossum as Ridley Duchannes; Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lincoln/Sarafine
Richard LaGravenese (P.S. I Love You, Freedom Writers)
February 14, 2013
Bob Hoose Bob Hoose