Beautiful Creatures
review by Cynthia Fuchs, 20 April 2001

Hit Me Baby One More Time

Dorothy (Susan Lynch) is living with a psycho. That much is clear in the first few minutes of Bill Eagles' Beautiful Creatures. The film opens with the camera looking out on a set of railroad tracks, as if you're speeding along on a train, while Susan and her boyfriend Tony (Iain Glen), coo at one another off-screen. "I love you Dorothy," he murmurs, "you totally gorgeous creature." She responds in kind, lovey-dovey and sweet.

Suddenly, while you're still watching the train tracks ahead of you, the conversation turns. Now Tony's angry that Dorothy has misplaced his golf clubs -- that's right, his golf clubs. She defends herself, claiming she hasn't touched them. He's increasingly ballistic. And then the railroad tracks cut to a second image, also in motion: Dorothy is rushing through the train cars, running from her raging lover, who's shoving objects and people out of his way in his rush to catch her. Finally, she finds a place to hide, a bathroom. He storms outside the door, slams a train conductor in the face. She cowers inside the cramped compartment, waiting until the train stops and she can no longer hear him outside. She steps out, apologizes to the recovering conductor, and heads on her way.

Okay, you can see that this guy is unpredictably and brutally violent. And so you have to ask, what is she doing with him?

The movie never comes up with an adequate answer to this question. In fact, it refuses to give you much of anything that's conventionally logical or emotionally satisfying, instead delivering crazy coincidences, characters making unbelievably bad decisions, and preposterous plot devices. You soon learn that Tony's not only a straight-up pig, but also a junkie. he abuses Dorothy and her loyal, not very bright dog Pluto (played by Storm) -- and you know that abusing a dog always gets an audience's sympathy. To its credit, Beautiful Creatures takes a refreshingly non-psychobabbly approach to Dorothy's predicament; it doesn't contemplate the hows and whys, but rather presents it as a currently appalling situation that has somehow sneaked up on her. Though bright and resourceful, she's (temporarily) stuck in a wholly recognizable situation (whenever women are abused, someone asks why they don't leave, as if the solution is so simple). Dorothy needs a push. The film provides her with a big one.

That push's name is Petula (Rachel Weisz), a bleached blond Marilyn-Monroe-look-alike. After rescuing Pluto from her apartment (where Tony has string him up and doused him with red paint, apparently to give her a terrible scare), Dorothy happens on an alley where she sees Petula being throttled by her own ineptly gangsterish boyfriend, Brian (Tom Mannion). Coming off her own prodigiously bad situation, Dorothy doesn't think twice, but grabs a bit of nearby scaffolding and whomps Brian on the head, knocking him cold. Since neither of the women can drive Brian's car, they literally drag him down the street to Dorothy's apartment, where he goes into convulsions and dies on the bathroom floor, eyes all bugged out and bloody-rimmed.

In the face of such disaster, Petula and Dorothy remain composed. They finish the haircut that Dorothy has been giving to Petula, then plan how to dispose of the body and leave town together. The plan includes Petula going back to work the next day, where she is employed by Brian's imperious, extra-nasty older brother Ronnie (Maurice Roeves), and perhaps more to the point, escaping detection by the Detective Inspector Hepburn (Alex Norton), corrupt and smug as they come.

There are lots of things wrong with Beautiful Creatures. Its humor is dark and gruesome, its dialogue awkward and silly, and its male characters idiotic. Wearing a rather inflammatory sort of "feminism" on its sleeve, it's not a "good" movie in the ordinary sense, and is frankly more annoying than thought-provoking. But in that sense, it's not unlike many of the dick-obsessed movies that precede and obviously motivate it, say, Trainspotting, Fight Club, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, or Snatch. But quite unlike those movies, Eagles's does not grant an inch of pleasure in its violence. Whether committed by men or women (or even the dog), the film's many acts of dismemberment, stabbing, shooting, chewing, and beating are repulsive.

Beautiful Creatures is also dissimilar to another film to which I've heard it compared: it is not a "Scottish Thelma & Louise." This promo-soundbite doesn't do justice to the ambitious, if not exactly realized, aspirations of Beautiful Creatures. For one thing, it's less glossy and celebratory than Ridley Scott's anthemic movie, and for another, there's no road trip in it. And really, the women's lack of mobility is crucial here. Not only are Dorothy and Petula penniless (and so can't even buy bus tickets) and unable to drive (they eventually learn by trial and error on a stick shift, in scenes depicting the usual fits and starts), but, it turns out, Brian has hidden Petula's passport.

To be sure, such symbolism is heavy-handed, but it does make clear what Beautiful Creatures is and is not. It's not an action movie, it's not about redemption or revenge, and it's not even very pleasant to watch. It is, however, a heady, if somewhat harsh and narrowly focused, deconstruction of all those popular boy movies that have their cake and eat it too, that decry violence and misogyny but also encourage viewers to get off on them. Beautiful Creatures reflects, to borrow from Madonna's recent single, what it feels like for a girl and then some.

Directed by:
Bill Eagles

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Susan Lynch
Alex Norton
Iain Glen
Maurice Roeves
Tom Mannion

Written by:
Simon Donald

Rated:
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
accompanying
parent or adult
guardian

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