I’m not sure anyone has the patience to listen to my list of all the reasons that The Craft is one of the most iconic films of the 1990s, but if you know, you just know. Focusing more on the wonder of magic as opposed to only to the dark side of it, Andrew Fleming’s 1996 teen fantasy-horror film has become a rallying cry among marginalized teens who found empowerment from the OG coven of Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, and Fairuza Balk. This sense of safety and protection that the original film provided to misunderstood people makes it a bit tough to approach the idea of a sequel in the new age, but Blumhouse, following in the success of other reboots like The Invisible Man, has taken the risk to attempt it anyway. Helmed by Band-Aid filmmaker/star Zoe Lister-Jones, The Craft: Legacy has already divided fans of the original film with its trailer depicting a different and far more modern take on the cult classic, but is that really a problem in its execution?
Shockingly, no, it isn’t. The Craft: Legacy, while not fully living up to the style or thrills of the original, still successfully balances playing to old and new witches alike.
Lily (Cailee Spaeny) is a teenager moving with her mother (Michelle Monaghan) to a new town to live with her soon-to-be stepfather (David Duchovny). Facing bullying and torment upon her arrival at her new school, she is soon embraced by three outsiders, Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone), and Lourdes (Zoey Luna), whom Lily soon discovers operate as a secret witches who are looking for their fourth member to complete their coven. Impressed by Lily’s natural magical ability, the coven begins thriving at school with the help of magic, but soon finds that dark forces might be approaching to impede on their new abilities.
The element of The Craft: Legacy that stands out as the most successful to me is how Lister-Jones balances paying homage to the original in the film’s directorial style, while also speaking to an entirely new generation and style in the film’s screenplay. Sure, some of the “hip” language used in the film has already moved on past relevance since filming, but such is the way of Gen Z culture. As someone who finds themselves firmly positioned in the generation between The Craft and The Craft: Legacy, I felt catered to on both fronts in how Lister-Jones approaches the material. There is a tenderness and understanding in Lister-Jones’s screenplay, empathizing with every character’s burdens and trauma as they are revealed to the audience. There’s so much more room in today’s age to more accurately portray the struggle of LGBTQ+ teens, teens of color, teens suffering at the hands of abuse, and more accurately portraying the depth of a woman’s burgeoning sexuality, all while still maintaining a PG-13 rating, which the original could’ve never dreamed of having in 1996 (even receiving an R-rating at the time solely for its depiction of witchcraft shows how far we’ve come).
The main complaint from the trailers was that The Craft: Legacy didn’t look goth enough, which I could agree with that it takes a sharp left turn from the dark aesthetic of the original, but I would also argue that the subset of goth culture is nowhere near as prominent as it was in 1996, and that The Craft: Legacy, despite lacking this carryover, represents what style that marginalized teens of today’s generation have adopted: a softer, more colorful, playful look. While I can understand the unease with this change, I think it more accurately places the film in the reality of today’s teen style, which is what made the original feel as grounded as it did; you simply feel like these characters are real. Faking something merely to fit in with an aesthetic would’ve felt more insincere than having the gumption to change it, and I surprisingly appreciate it.
Another great surprise was that I was also incredibly pleased with the new cast of witches. Again, it’s difficult to compare with the original, but in the shadow of such an iconic cast, the new members of the coven are strong and likable in their own right. Spaeny, known for her supporting work in Bad Times at the El Royale, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and Devs, is great in her first leading role, with Lily providing a wonderful grounded base to the more eclectic cast around her. Simone, Adlon, and Luna also turn in some wonderfully charming performances opposite Adlon, with the mysterious, but magnetic energy we want from the coven. This comes together to create really wonderful chemistry between the four young women, creating the strength of a coven that’s required for a film like The Craft: Legacy to work. It’s also wonderfully refreshing to see Lourdes, played by Luna, be included as a transgender witch with little to no fanfare. No tragic backstory, no trauma to unload, just…able to be present and accounted for with all of her other identifiable and likable traits.
The Craft: Legacy does hit a snag when it comes to its plot in the third act, however. The film takes a strange left turn that feels a bit out-of-the-blue and heavy-handed, which does take away from some of the more emotional elements of the first two acts. It’s not enough to bring down the good work of the film prior to this, but it does open up a bit of excess cheesiness and an unnecessary story that could’ve been reserved for a sub-plot. It turns a lot of what the film becomes into a bit more of a campy horror film, but it luckily never feels consequential enough to ruin things. Points for not being predictable, but I rescind the points for not fulfilling its potential with a rewarding conclusion.
Despite this, Lister-Jones (and her all-female crew) puts in the work and really pulls everything together to make this truly feel like a sequel to The Craft. From the title card to the final shot, she understands the stylistic choices that made The Craft so effective as a fantasy film in 1996. Even with the film’s transition to an East Coast setting, character style changes, and an emphasis on the magic over the horror, there’s the same empowerment at the center that comes through despite all of these superficial changes.
Unfortunately, I feel like these changes are going to turn many off to The Craft: Legacy, despite its genuine want to both pay homage to the original and do new things. People will complain about its “wokeness” or that it’s not goth enough, or that it’s not scary enough, but I believe that the strengths of carrying the name of The Craft come from the understanding of the strong female bond that comes in hardship (and witchcraft), as opposed to merely its witchy aesthetic. I’d much rather watch a film that stands on its own two feet away from the original, with its own unique strengths and weaknesses, than one that is purely repeating the same points the original made. Perhaps it will all come down to generational differences that determine your enjoyment of The Craft: Legacy, and for that, I’m grateful I get to exist between the two to be able to enjoy both for very different reasons.
Available on VOD October 28th, 2020.
For more information, head to the official The Craft: Legacy website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.