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.
And then, quite suddenly, while you’re still watching the train tracks ahead of you, receding into a forever unknown future, the conversation turns. Tony’s angry that Dorothy has misplaced his golf clubs. She defends herself, claiming she hasn’t touched them. He’s increasingly ballistic. And then the image cuts to a second: 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. Okay, you can see that this guy is scary, instantly brutally violent. And you can only wonder, what is she doing with him?
Rachel Weisz, Susan Lynch, Alex Norton, Iain Glen, Maurice Roeves, Tom Mannion
The movie never comes up with an adequate answer to this question. Tony’s a vicious junkie and a pig straight-up: he abuses Dorothy and her dog Pluto (played by Storm). The fact that Beautiful Creatures doesn’t contemplate the hows and whys of this awful relationship makes it simultaneously frustrating and, to a point, realistic. This isn’t to say that it’s at all concerned with realism per se. It’s full of crazy coincidences, characters making unbelievably bad decisions, and preposterous plot devices.
Take, for instance, Dorothy’s accidental and wholly life-changing encounter with Petula (Rachel Weisz), a bleached blond Marilyn-Monroe-look-alike who happens to be in mid-fight with her ineptly gangsterish boyfriend, Brian (Tom Mannion). He’s actually throttling her to death when Dorothy comes on the scene, and so, she knocks him out cold with a big pipe she finds on the street. While Dorothy catches her breath and Petula has a fag (cigarette), they decide they need to do something about this predicament. And so they drag him (literally, because neither can drive his car) to Dorothy’s apartment—which she has just vacated in an effort to leave Tony—where he goes into convulsions and dies on the bathroom floor, eyes all bugged out, with blood dripping from the edges. But Petula and Dorothy remain composed: they have to decide what to do with the body, and how to escape detection by the police—embodied here by the corrupt Detective Inspector Hepburn (Alex Norton)—as well as Brian’s imperious, extra-nasty older brother Ronnie (Maurice Roeves). You might consider this a “bonding” situation. Then again, you might think it’s a wack one.
There are lots of things wrong with Beautiful Creatures. Its humor is dark and bloody, its dialogue awkward and silly, and its male characters idiotic, and, as you might guess from even the above brief description, it wears a rather inflammatory sort of “feminism” on its sleeve. Indeed, it’s not a very “good” movie in the ordinary sense, more annoying than witty or thought-provoking. But in that sense, it’s not unlike many of the turbid, 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’ does not grant an inch of pleasure in its violence: here the barbarity is ugly, mean and crude. You never feel a release from it, or a thrill. Whether committed by men or women (or the dog), the acts of dismemberment, stabbing, shooting, and beating are relentlessly hard to watch.
Likewise, the film is unlike another one to which it has been compared. It is not, as I’ve heard it called, a “Scottish Thelma & Louise,” as this 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. It sounds trivial, but the point is crucial to getting what’s at stake in the film. Not only are Dorothy and Petula initially penniless (no possibility for 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 about, and not incidentally, connects it quite clearly to themes that Madonna has recently addressed, in her intelligent and controversial video for “What It Feels Like For a Girl.” 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. And in that way, Beautiful Creatures reflects what it feels like for a girl and then some.