Review: ‘The Craft: Legacy’ conjures the right elements but loses the magic in the end
The legacy of Andrew Fleming’s 1996 film “The Craft” still looms large, its goth-lite aesthetic of baby tees and black lipstick the epitome of cool for a certain generation of impressionable teens. The line “we are the weirdos, mister,” became a manifesto of sorts for girls who envisioned themselves as quirky, edgy outsiders. So it’s no wonder that the movie gods (horror imprint Blumhouse) conjured up a sequel/reboot, placing “The Craft: Legacy” in the very capable hands of writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones.
Although some fans may have wanted to see the original fearsome foursome of Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell and Rachel True back in action 20-plus years later, Blumhouse and Lister-Jones know who this movie should be for: teenage girls, not necessarily nostalgic thirtysomethings (though we’ll watch it anyway). Lister-Jones follows the basic plot blueprint, but updates the story in new and necessary ways, with an eye to contemporary culture. We still follow a new-in-town teen girl, Lily (Cailee Spaeny), finding herself as the magical fourth member of a high school coven, discovering her own latent witchy powers in the process.
Lily and her mother, Helen (Michelle Monaghan), have just moved in with Helen’s new partner, Adam (David Duchovny), and his three taciturn sons. On Lily’s first day at school, she becomes the butt of a joke straight out of a teen magazine’s embarrassing moments column, and when the trio of Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone) and Lourdes (Zoey Luna) console her, she’s grateful for the friendship. Soon, the four discover what their powers combined can do against the aggressive boys at school, and their coven is off and running, with days spent chanting and studying the magical arts. The vibe is much more “sparkly rave fairy” than “angry Catholic schoolgirl,” but the essence is the same: fun and friendship mixed with light occultism.
For a villain, Lister-Jones harnesses the cultural forces that stand in opposition to Lily and her fierce feminine faction: a retro-style toxic masculinity, embodied by Lily’s would-be stepdad. There are many ominous things about Adam, a speaker, author and thought leader of sorts in the masculinity sphere. He’s controlling, leads mysterious, cultish men’s groups, has a bunch of old family crests with snakes on them, and seriously, what is up with his sons? Lister-Jones stirs and stirs this bubbling cauldron of domestic menace and suspense, creating an intense energy that promises to explode with something truly terrifying, but it merely fizzles when all is revealed.
Like the four corners the girls invoke, represented by earth, air, fire and water, the elements are there to make “The Craft: Legacy” something special for its audience of younger women. There’s the compelling cast, including up-and-coming stars Spaeny, Simone, Adlon and Luna. There’s the smart update on the material that wants to dig into heteropatriarchy as so threatened by a little light witchcraft. There’s also a requisite connection to the original film. Everything hums along until it abruptly crashes and burns, and one can’t help but wonder if the film was picked apart to fit a PG-13 rating (the original is R) and a sub-100-minute runtime.
One of the early tricks the girls master is an ability to freeze time, and after that ending, you wish we could freeze it right when they learn to embrace their magical abilities, laughing and twirling in the street, dizzy with their own power. Unfortunately, movie magic doesn’t go that far.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
‘The Craft: Legacy’
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, crude and sexual content, language and brief drug material
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Playing: Available Oct. 28 on premium VOD
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