Science fiction and fantasy

Beautiful Creatures poster

The Secret Eater

Beautiful Creatures

directed by Richard LaGravenese

Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is a young man who wants to get out of the small town he's grown up in. He's worried about standing still and getting stuck in the southern backwater that is Gatlin. But the book-loving young man has been having nightmares about a mysterious woman, and these dreams end in his own death. So when the new girl Lena (Alice Englert) shows up in class, he's intrigued.

Ethan tries hard to befriend Lena in spite of her prickly nature and the hostility of her eccentric uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). Ethan's former girlfriend Emily (Zoey Deutch) is jealous of his new friendship, so she tries to smear Lena with accusations of witchcraft. But these accusations aren't entirely without foundation. Soon the whole Bible-thumping town is mobilised against the new arrival. But as she approaches her sixteenth birthday Lena has much bigger problems. She's under some kind of curse, and when she hits her birthday she will be claimed by the forces of good or evil. Her family wanted to protect her by bringing her to this small, quiet town and forbidding her to mix. But they didn't count on a malevolent witch coming for Lena and trying to manipulate her feelings before the crucial day.

The concept is absurdly black and white: basically female magic users get claimed for good or evil, after which they have to go all one way or another without any free will. I don't expect much realism from a fantasy about magic and witches, but this idea doesn't have psychological credibility either. People don't have to become entirely good or evil in real life, so this seemed rather like firing at dead Nazis instead of taking up an issue of real importance. It's no fun when the drama is all about something everyone agrees is wrong.

Most of Beautiful Creatures is told from Ethan's point of view, which is unusual but refreshing for such a sweet, romantic film. It would make a great date movie. There's also an enjoyable literary angle, with Ethan's reading tending towards the forbidden list, although in Gatlin that seems to include almost anything that isn't the Bible or the church newsletter.

I liked the character of Amma (Viola Davis), who is something of a mother figure for Ethan, who lost his own mother when he was younger. Amma is sharp and sassy, a mix of secrets of intriguing contradictions. Macon is a similar tangle of conflict with a hidden past and depths of his own. Emma Thompson's performance as Mrs. Lincoln and Sarafine is entertaining and impressive, although her characters aren't as subtle as the others.

The magic is ill-defined; there don't seem to be any limits on what it can do. This puts the story firmly in the realm of unthreatening frivolity, because no matter what happens there's always the sense that the right spell could put it right. Nevertheless the plot is compelling and it moves quickly. The students tend to cluster in the usual high school tribes, especially the bitchy Emily, but the main characters are endearingly quirky. I especially loved the way Lena's acid tongue contrasted with Ethan's cheerful enthusiasm. It's these small touches that elevate the story from yet another teen drama with added sparkles to become a moving story that merits a second viewing.

24th February 2013

4 star rating

Review ©

Film Details

Year of release: 2013

Categories: Films

Classification: 12

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