Beautiful Creatures pits religion against supernatural forces and does it under the guise of promoting tolerance. On one side are the stereotypical small town religious zealots who gather at the local church to drive out newcomer Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert). The teen recently moved in with her reclusive uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) and since her arrival weird things have begun happening in the southern community of Gatlin, South Carolina.
Lena and Macon, however, aren’t the only supernaturals that belong to a coven of witches, more accurately called Casters. Among the others who gather for the family’s harvest dinner are Gramma (Eileen Atkins), Aunt Del (Margo Martindale) and cousin Larkin (Kyle Gallner). Despite the fact that the group has little use for humans and their silly obsessions with love, faith and sacrifice, they still come off looking surprisingly better than their mortal neighbors. Lena’s estranged mother Sarafine (Emma Thompson) has long since embraced the dark side along with Lena’s other cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum). While Sarafine yearns for ultimate power, Ridley likes to use men then casts them off with little regard.
Hiding out in the body of a religious fanatic named Mrs. Lincoln, Sarafine does her best to lure her daughter to join her in her quest to rid the world of mankind. But her persuasive efforts seem pointless since, according to the script, female casters do not have a choice in the matter. We are told that by nature they are either good or bad. Even they have no knowledge of which way they will go until they are “claimed” for one side or the other on their 16th birthday. In the meantime, unable to control her growing powers, Lena blows out the windows of the school, starts a town sign on fire and causes unusual weather occurrences in the small town.
In the midst of the drama determining her future, Lena falls in love with Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a local boy who refuses to be swayed by the opinions of his classmates (Zoey Deutch, Tiffany Boone) who bully Lena from her first day in school. His religion is knowledge and he takes pleasure in reading every banned book he can get his hands on. And although her relatives warn him about the dangers of forming an attachment with a caster, Ethan relishes the thrill of the unknown and refuses to leave her alone.
Though well acted, edited, paced and filmed, Beautiful Creatures is replete with contradictions—the least of which is choice vs. destiny. (Either Lena can pick sides on her 16th birthday or she can’t. The script can’t make up its mind.) Deity vs. Satan, light vs. darkness, faith vs. knowledge and tolerance vs. bigotry are among the other opposing themes the story tries to cover in a convincing way without ever taking a definitive stand. Rather it seems the film attempts to appease everyone at one point or another.
With a much stronger plotline and cast than the Twilight series, Beautiful Creatures, based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, may fill a need for teens left looking for the next best thing. Yet the strength of the production may be the problem for parents concerned about the impact this positive depiction of witchcraft and dark arts may have on impressionable young teens—especially those who believe their life path is determined by fate and not choice.