wasn’t on my radar until Warner Bros. kick-started its marketing campaign for the Southern Gothic teen thriller a few weeks back. Not that it should have been. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Young Adult source material isn’t exactly targeting my demographic (which I politely refer to as Old Adult).
Yet now that I’ve seen Richard LaGravenese’s film adaptation of the first book in the series, I completely understand why Hollywood’s eager to gamble on Garcia and Stohl’s romantic story… and why teenagers (and parents of teens) will want to see what Beautiful is all about.
As studios search for Twilight’s eventual successor, audiences will be presented with teen-lit transfers that dabble in mysticism, sorcery and strong female leads. It’s a trend we’re planning to monitor in the When Can I Watch column because movies like this, The Host and The Hunger Games sequels will be ones your children are going to want to see. So, let’s figure out when you can watch Beautiful Creatures with your kids.
Green Lights: “Do you know where you’re going?” “Rarely!”
Creatures tells a familiar romance with unexpected (and welcome) tweaks. Strange, reclusive teen Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) moves to a quiet, conservative Southern town where she’s instantly ostracized by the judgmental, deeply religious high school clique – led by “Queen Bee” Emily Asher (Zoey Duetch).
The Duchannes clan has a reputation for being Satanists… a rumor that is fueled by solitary Uncle Mason (Jeremy Irons), who keeps to himself in the family’s gloomy mansion on the outskirts of town. That’s not enough to scare away curious, handsome Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who dreams of an existence outside of Gatlin, South Carolina, and sees Lena as a beacon of light guiding him to a better life.
“Light” and “Dark” are vital components to Creatures, which surprises with the reveal that Lena actually is a witch on the verge of puberty --- which, in the coven, is referred to as the Claiming. When a witch turns 16, they are called either to the “Light” or the “Dark.” They have little to no power over which direction they’re going to be drawn, though Lena has an additional curse cast over her family by the vengeful sorceress Ridley Duchannes (Emmy Rossum), causing even more complications as she simply tries to get to know this boy she might be falling in love with.
OK, so it’s not your typical boy-meets-girl melodrama, though LaGravenese leans on comfortable storytelling angles of new-love fiction when possible to give audiences a recognizable portal into this unique world. The movie, and the cast specifically, dial into that restless frustration that comes with being a teenager on the cusp of freedom but not yet living on your own. If your kids are anything like I remember being in high school, the idea of getting out and starting my own life was intoxicating, and Creatures really nails that emotional stasis.
Forbidden love between opposites is a repetitive theme in teen romance stories, but it helps that Ehrenreich and Englert make an adorable couple, and Creatures does a great job of settling into a groove where young lovers let down their guards because they finally feel comfortable around someone who understands them. Lena feels like she can be “normal” around Ethan. It just so happens that normal for her means practicing magic, making it snow on a hot summer day, or reading centuries-old witchcraft books to learn how to break a devastating spell.
There are smaller – yet still important – lessons that can be gleaned out of Creatures, even as the supernatural storyline grows hokey in the film’s third act.
There’s the error of judging a book by its cover, as Macon and Lena of course don’t turn out to be as terrifying or dangerous as the townsfolk assume. References to To Kill a Mockingbird and its lonesome character Boo Radley could inspire you to pick that classic novel up and start reading it with your kids, if they are moved by Creatures and want to know what to move on to next. And parents dreading to sit through Creatures with their kids (if you choose to accompany them – always recommended) will be happy to hear that the stellar cast of Irons, Rossum and Emma Thompson help sell this Southern Gothic soap opera from the perilous clutches of sweet-but-shallow teen-girl mythology.
Creatures ends up being an entertaining movie, overall.
Red Flags: “How am I going to survive a lifetime of you surprising me?”
What do you need to look out for? Not a whole lot. The language is relatively tame, with the word “bitch” used every once in a while, usually in reference to Rossum’s character, Ridley.
On Ridley (pictured above), she’s likely going to help usher a few teenage boys into puberty, themselves. She spends most of the movie in lacy lingerie – the sure sign of a foul temptress, I guess – and the gorgeous actress is skilled at vamping it up for the camera, giving Creatures a surprising edge.
The film’s emphasis on close-minded religion isn’t a Red Flag as much as it is an unexpected talking point for parents and kids. The Southern students at Lena’s school come off as slight caricatures of the far-right religious conservatives. This isn’t Kevin Smith’s Red State, but if your kids aren’t familiar with Satanists (and why would they be?), you might want to be prepared to have a conversation about the different religions that are available to people, and how – despite the fact that it isn’t very Christian – religious people often are portrayed on-screen as judgmental, scornful and close-hearted bigots.
It’s unfortunate, but true, that Hollywood sometimes paints with broad strokes when it comes to religion on-screen, and Creatures is guilty, though not to the extreme.
Director Richard LaGravenese takes a few risks, but always ensures that Beautiful Creatures stays appropriate for the tweens who helped make Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s book series a hit.
The film is a very soft PG-13 that no doubt will connect with kids – mostly girls – who are 12 and 13. Between this and Warm Bodies, it’s a very good time to be a teenager wanting/needing to take someone special on a date to the movies. Mom and dad, you can go to Safe Haven, instead.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.