The Craft: Legacy
This 24-years-later sequel pays tribute to its predecessor and brings its teen witches into the 21st century, but still feel like the remnants left someone's cauldron.
October 29, 2020
Long before its new sequel declared so in its title, The Craft already had a legacy. A horror-thriller about teen witches using and abusing magic to cope with high school's troubles, the 1996 Neve Campbell-starring cult favourite is the quintessential movie of that exact description. It's supremely 90s. It has the cast, look, soundtrack and mood to match. In using the occult to explore adolescent angst, it splashes everything from stormy skies and candle-lit rooms to hordes of rats and snakes across the screen, filling its frames with trusty genre imagery. And, it leans into the torment and toil of being a young woman finding one's way in the world, and of dealing with sleazy schoolboys, racist prom queens, society's obsession with appearance and the tyranny of class differences, too. The overall film has its struggles, but it has always stood out — and retained its place in pop culture.
Written and directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Zoe Lister-Jones (Band Aid), The Craft: Legacy is clearly the product of someone who already knows all of the above. It's also the work of someone keen to pay tribute to the original, embrace what she sees as its strengths, redress its wrongs, and update it for a new time and a new generation. But it's possible for a 24-years-later follow-up to show affection, make some smart changes, move with the times and still feel like the remnants left in a cauldron. Or, for it to recall one of its predecessor's famed moments — one it recreates, briefly — in an unintended fashion. When this feature's coven play with levitation, the words "light as a feather, stiff as a board" aren't heard; however, by the end of the movie, they best describe everything that's just happened.
Starting as its inspiration did, The Craft: Legacy begins with the arrival of a teen in a new town. Lily (Cailee Spaeny, Devs) and her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan, Saint Judy) move in with the latter's boyfriend and his three sons — and if the in-car sing-along to Alanis Morrisette's 'Hand in My Pocket' doesn't nod firmly enough in the 90s' direction, the casting of The X-Files' David Duchovny as Adam, the author of a self-help book called 'The Hallowed Masculine' and the object of the head-over-heels Helen's affection, does. Navigating a new school, Lily soon finds herself taunted by resident jock and bully Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine, Share) in an unpleasant classroom incident. But she's also found by Lourdes (Zoey Luna, Pose), Frankie (Gideon Adlon, Blockers) and Tabby (Lovie Simone, Selah and the Spades), who are looking for the west to their north, south and east. They become fast friends, trifling with spells and testing their abilities. They also sneak into Timmy's room and enchant him into becoming the best version of himself.
While Timmy provides an early source of nastiness, it's hardly a spoiler to note that he isn't The Craft: Legacy's antagonist. Instead, he's transformed from a jerk that makes fun of menstruation to a sensitive soul who waxes lyrical about Princess Nokia's politics. Any movie that does that was never going to let its darkness spring from its central quartet, either. Lily and her new friends must learn to use magic responsibly, but their mistakes are lessons rather than cautionary tales. The Craft: Legacy also gets its witches to turn a homophobic classmate's coat into a rainbow-hued statement piece, and burn slut-shaming slurs off of lockers. It has Lourdes stand up for trans women like herself, correcting Frankie when she says that giving birth is one of the fairer sex's strengths. It verbally and visibly champions inclusivity at every turn, so it finds its enemy in a glaring source — that'd be toxic masculinity — and the creepy character who personifies it.
Often, when a sequel, remake or reboot gestures forcefully at the movie it's based on, it can prove convenient, blatant and overt all at once. Alas, that's how the bulk of The Craft: Legacy plays. In fact, in mimicking setups, scenes or specific lines, Lister-Jones is generally canny and even economical about references to her film's predecessor — so they're frequently the only parts that don't feel bland and routine. If only the same amount of effort had gone into fleshing out the main characters, who are nearly interchangeable, even with their racial and gender diversity. If only the same care had be expended in giving them personalities (loudness is one of the gang's defining traits), backstories and any weirdness, actually. If only the same thoughtfulness had been afforded its villain and all that he stands for, too. Rather than seeing young women become consumed by their blossoming power, and also punishing those who refuse to conform, it's a welcome shift that The Craft: Legacy calls out the patriarchal norms and attitudes that put teenage girls in that situation. And yet the film just seems happy enough to have made that switch, instead of giving it any true weight or substantial depth.
The Craft: Legacy is light thematically, and also in plethora of other ways. Visually and tonally, it views witchcraft as fun and colourful. Emotionally, there are few stakes and horrors, so almost everything feels unimportant and anticlimactic. As a result, there's also a stiffness to the film — as though it's trying so hard to be loose, open, breezy and upbeat that it actually proves strained and wooden instead. A likeable cast of women can't change that. Neither can a late plot inclusion that's predictable, but possesses more intrigue than the rest of the movie. It's fitting that The Craft: Legacy's witches treat their abilities like superpowers, because the film recalls oh-so-many caped crusader flicks in one inescapable regard: by focusing its energies on laying the groundwork for a sequel that isn't guaranteed, and failing to conjure up much more than the bare minimum in the process.