Watching Andrew Fleming’s The Craft today, it’s hard not to be shocked at how hauntingly modern the film is. It’s tackling of themes such as paganism and witchcraft in a mostly Christian-conservative culture, toxic/abusive friendships and female rivalry perpetuated by the patriarchy and such feels incredibly authentic even by today’s standards, let alone for 1996. As far as horror movies with sociopolitical commentary on teenage culture go, it’s one of the smartest and boldest there is. Due to that, a new entry in the series with a new helmer at the director’s chair – a woman – in the current sociopolitical climate just feels right, and the Blumhouse-produced The Craft: Legacy shows itself a solid follow-up, even though it starts a lot stronger than it finishes.
The story follows Lilly (Cailee Spaeney), a young girl who moves to a new town and starts a new school, where she meets a group of three girls – Tabby (Lovie Simone), Lourdes (Zoey Luna) and Frankie (Gideon Adlon) – who happen to be a witch coven, waiting for their fourth. When Lilly starts manifesting her witch powers, the girls band together to find out exactly what is the extent of their forces, except things might not go exactly as expected.
Superficially, that sounds exactly like the plot for the original film, but fact the matter is this one has a number of different plot points that set it apart, only I’m refraining from mentioning those for the sake of spoilers. The approach when it comes to the characters is one of the most recognizable differences that this film has in relation to its predecessor; even if it’s shockingly modern, the original Craft is still a reflection of its time, and it’s only fitting that Legacy would be one of ours. Ergo, our new coven is extremely relatable for the more politically educated youth of today, and not only that, their personalities and archetypes feel like very authentic and fresh portrayals of current adolescence – think something like the characters of Booksmart, but witches. The chemistry their share is powerful and the relationship between them – approached very differently from the original coven, after all these are different women in a different time – is one of the film’s biggest strengths, and it helps that filmmaker Zoe Lister-Jones’ dialogue is quick, snappy, funny and delivered with wholesome charisma by her actresses.
All across the Ouija board the performances are fantastic. Cailee Spaeney leads with a phenomenal emotionally charged strength, and her witch mates do justice to their well realized characterizations. They’re not the only strong acting talent to compose the film, however; David Duchovny delivers an intriguing and intimidating performance as Lilly’s stepfather, while Michelle Monaghan shines with charisma as her mom – the relationship between the two also being very captivating -, but an unexpected scene stealer was Nicholas Galitzine as the school bully Timmy. The young actor stars in one of the film’s most incredible and emotional scenes, and the way Lister-Jones develops this particular character’s arc in contrast to what the original film did is simply phenomenal.
The film is at its very strongest during the first two acts. The way it introduces the characters and presents the puberty metaphors as well as the inherent sociopolitical commentary on modern teenage culture is done to perfection – the use of Lilly’s period as the ignition point of her witch powers is a particularly brilliant metaphor very reminiscent of Stephen King’s Carrie and Ginger Snaps. The very set of protagonist witches naturally invoke the discourse, the discussions on said themes among themselves about their own conflicts being very cleverly peppered throughout the picture. Lourdes, for example, is a trans girl, and Lister-Jones’ script doesn’t attempt to make that fact a bigger deal than it has to be, instead letting that aspect come into play naturally whenever the thematic discussion requires. The employment of modern political jargon is also very smart, coming with a sharp sense of humor that’s even satirical from time to time. Along with that, the film’s wholesome atmosphere starts gravitating towards something ominous and eerie as the story progresses, and the script and direction feed you more and more with the idea that something is off. Like so, the writer/director builds the intrigue surrounding magic hand-in-hand with its social commentary, patiently making its way through two magnificent acts.
Unfortunately, however, the third act doesn’t live up to all the fantastic development that came before it. The main issue being just how off the pacing is – in contrast to the thoroughly built acts 1 and 2, act 3 feels very rushed. The film seems to purposefully cut a handful of material and leave certain questions unanswered in hopes of a sequel – and while not much is known about the production of this film due to how silently it was made, the climax smells of a reshoot. One particular reveal that’s left for the very end of the movie is quite predictable, but anyone who sees the trailer will notice said twist being revealed on a very differently contextualized, presumably much earlier moment of the feature that was ultimately cut from the final version. While for me such a weak final act didn’t ruin the film, it did massively cap its potential for greatness.
On the more technical side of things – if there really is such a thing in film -, the art department is on point. The costume design brings a very varied, distinct and stylish wardrobe for this modern witch coven that sets them apart in the crowd and makes them the points of attraction of every shot they’re in. Like their predecessors, they’re iconic, but in their own way. The movie is also beautifully photographed when it comes to lighting and the vibrant night-party colors that paint the portrait of modern youth, and the subtle camera work overall is one of its strongest assets – be it in the way the camera moves, or how it lingers. One particular scene pulls together brilliant use of camera, editing, shadows and (the lack of) music to create one of the most genuinely scary moments of any film I’ve seen this year. The original score is also a banger, full of very rhythmically distinct synth compositions and a remarkable use of choir. The visual effects are, for the most part, beautiful in their simplicity, portraying these witches’s magic in a very different light from the ones of the original movie; however, much like the story, they start to get pretty dodgy during the 3rd act, as subtlety is abandoned in favor of a more obvious, albeit less interesting, use of digital effects.
Long story short, The Craft: Legacy is a solid witch movie for this Halloween season and much like its predecessor, it’s filled of very relevant and timely social themes to discuss. Carried by incredibly strong performance and charismatic characters, the film is at the peak of its brilliancy during its first two acts, and even though a severely rushed and weak conclusion hinders its potential for greatness, it has plenty of redeeming qualities throughout and is still quite the entertaining watch, especially for young people who’ll relate to its discourse and contextualization. It’s frustrating to see how its 3rd act doesn’t do the rest of the film justice – and I’ll bet there’s a director’s cut sitting somewhere that’s probably a masterpiece -, but this is still a solid sequel to the 1996 cult classic. Whether it will successfully revitalize the franchise in order to generate more films, however, is an entirely different story.
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