Why do people love The Craft? Ignoring for a minute the assumption contained within that statement, my guess is that it’s because the 1996 surprise Andrew Fleming hit contains within it many of the usual ingredients for cult popularity — goth girl kitsch, unabashed melodrama, vamping theater kids, 90s nostalgia. It’s kind of corny, but more importantly, it doesn’t seem to care whether you think it’s kind of corny. And, of course, it starred Fairuza Balk and Neve Campbell, both of whom belong on the respective Mount Rushmores of both goth kitsch and 90s nostalgia. It’s no coincidence that The Craft starred four girls and became a hit right before Lilith Fair, during a simpler, slightly more organic era of female empowerment-as-a-genre.
This week brings us an attempt to capitalize on– er, an update on, the original. The Craft: Legacy, was written and directed by Lola Versus screenwriter Zoe Lister-Jones and produced by Blumhouse. It’s not streaming for free anywhere but you can buy or rent it on Amazon or iTunes and some other places, which is a shame because free streaming would’ve suited this kind of movie much better.
This time around, the cast includes Lovie Simone as proud black girl Tabby, Gideon Adlon as blabbermouth comic (ish) relief (and “Twilight stan”) Frankie, Zoey Luna as transgirl teen Lourdes (will this be the formula for all teen movies, post-Euphoria?) and Cailee Spaeny as our shy new Neve Campbell, Lily. (Incidentally, reading the words “Cailee Spaeny” makes my head hurt). Lily has a pixie cut and dresses like a 30-something secretary at an interior design firm in Monterey — unlike the rest of the crew, who dress like they’re going to a Clueless-themed cocktail party — and has just moved to town… from… uh, somewhere else. While the original named its settings (Los Angeles and San Francisco), The Craft Legacy takes place in an unnamed everytown. Lily’s mom, played by Michelle Monaghan (who is oddly much taller than her daughter, though this will be explained later) has taken her daughter to live with her brand new boyfriend, played by David Duchovny, and his three weird high school-aged sons, Jacob, Abe, and Isaiah.
On her first day at school, Lily has her period all over her chair, gets roasted for it by the school jock, Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) and quickly gets adopted by the witch girls, who give her a new pair of shorts and soon discover, to their delight, that she seems to have an air of the enchantress about her (maybe it’s the pixie cut?). Their dialogue consists of about half expository magick talk (the subtitles actually spell it “magick,” which is just great, the K makes it witchier) and half clunky attempts to shoehorn social commentary. Sample dialogue:
“We literally house babies in our bodies, that’s some Ridley Scott shit. We have superpowers without even trying.”
“Not all of us can do that, but…”
“Ooh, point taken, my bad, Lu.”
“No, it’s all good, y’all know we trans girls got our own magic anyway.”
You know teen girls, always talking up Ridley Scott and his famous movie from 1979. Meanwhile, Lily’s hobby is, you’ll never believe this, photography. Have we ever seen an artsy girl in a teen movie do photography before? We may have to research this further.
Yes, the dialogue is obnoxious, exhaustingly sassy, and trying way too hard, but what’s being a teen if not acting obnoxiously sassy and trying way too hard? Grating woke teens aren’t my first choice of things to watch, but you have to admit that it suits the source. The newly formed coven do magick together in the park and soon sneak into Timmy’s house to cast a spell on him. Using his bong as a “cauldron” (wonderful touch) they say some magic words in the hopes that it will make him less of an asshole.
It works, almost too well. Timmy immediately shows up to school the next day lecturing other bros about how their jokes are “triggering” and “in eighth period he went on a tear about heteronormativity.” Soon he’s confessing same-sex hookups and opening up about his dead mom. They’ve essentially turned the insensitive jock bully into an faux-sensitive hybrid of gay best friend and f*ckboi nightmare, which could’ve been the perfect “be careful what you wish for” moment, and almost is. “You recreated Timmy in your own image,” one of girls says, in a moment of guilty introspection.
For all its cheesiness, The Craft: Legacy makes some deliciously bold story decisions, and Timmy’s about face (reminiscent of Luke from the first season of The OC, who started out an A-hole bully, but quickly turned sensitive confidant with a gay dad) is one of them. Yet, just as it seems like it’s about to go somewhere really interesting, The Craft: Legacy seems to decide belatedly that it needs an antagonist. It finds one in David Duchovny’s character, whose evilness was telegraphed early on with the reveal that he’s some kind of men’s rights guru who writes books with “masculinity” in the title.
From there on out, The Craft: Legacy feels like it’s on fast-forward. The abruptness of its reveals, and the way it basically smash cuts from semi-realism to pure schlock is laugh-out-loud funny, not to mention, again, admirably bold (and reminiscent of that guy suddenly turning into a wolf in Twilight, which may explain the otherwise shoehorned Twilight shoutout). It morphs from a movie about sassy teens into a plot about dueling covens, enchanted medallions, and dark family secrets.
If I had been on the fence about the movie earlier, suddenly I was in. Then, just when things are beginning to heat up, it ends. And no, “there was too much material here” doesn’t quite cut it. It feels more like The Craft: Legacy sold its own plot down the river in order to pimp a sequel.
Are we still doing this? It’s not 2015 anymore. In a year that threatens to kill movie theaters as we know them, nothing feels as out of place as using the third act of a movie as a trailer for some future movie we’ll likely never get. Buddy, I paid $20 for this. And mostly in order to distract myself from the possibility of a civil war in two months. Do us a solid and at least finish your sentence. And thus a movie that attempts to capitalize on nostalgia becomes an anachronism all its own.
‘The Craft: Legacy’ is available now on VOD. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.