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Sony’s trailer for The Craft: Legacy makes the film look less like a sequel than an updated remake of the teen fantasy that drove legions of us to worship at the dark altar of demonic sorceress Fairuza Balk. It adheres quite closely to the story beats and even some of the dialogue of the 1996 cult horror hit, right down to the new arrival in town who completes the circle of aspiring witches, bringing magic she has only just begun to command as they use their collective powers to cut school bullies down to size. But all that is pretty much over and done with in the early scenes of the new installment, before it goes off on a different, and far less satisfying, tangent.
The first movie was an outsider revenge tale gone awry, an ensemble piece about four young women drawn as distinctive characters with troubled backgrounds. While it predated Mean Girls, the tyranny of the popular set and the uprising of the misfits were central to the bonding and mutual empowerment of that latter clique. But what really juiced up the original was the emergence of a clearly identified antagonist within the group, adding several shots of bad-girl badassery and quasi-satirical, campy humor to the cheeky feminist spin on adolescent self-discovery.
Release date: Oct 27, 2020
Zoe Lister-Jones, the writer-director of this sequel, clearly loves The Craft. But whether her affection extends to horror movies as a genre remains unclear. She’s in such a rush to get through the development of the new quartet’s gifts that all the fun stuff is largely reduced to a perfunctory music montage (to Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen”), gussied up with a few extra CG sparkles.
There’s contemporary currency in Lister-Jones’ point that women, already marginalized, should refrain from victimizing one another. But the point becomes strained once the external adversary emerges and the protagonists — of which only one really counts — take down a very literal embodiment of the patriarchy as pure evil. This is less an issue with the blunt theme than its limp execution.
There are few if any scares here, right up to the anticlimactic final faceoff where the witches strike back not so much with incantations but with what seem more like wannabe superhero moves. They’re more low-key X-Men than Hex-Men.
For much of the action, the foursome gets sidelined to focus on the domestic drama of Lily (Cailee Spaeny), whose birth name we later learn is Lilith, making her the actual gateway into the magical universe. Lily and her single mother Helen (a criminally wasted Michelle Monaghan) are freshly installed as a blended family with Helen’s new man Adam (David Duchovny) and his three teenage sons, Isaiah (Donald MacLean Jr.), Jacob (Charles Vandervaart) and Abe (Julian Grey). If Lily had two sisters they’d be the Brady Bunch.
Lily and her cute pixie cut have a bad track record of making friends. That looks to continue when mortifying disaster strikes on the pensive loner’s first day at her new school, with the conspicuous arrival of her period while her English teacher is quoting Maya Angelou. Three of her classmates — Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone) and Lourdes (Zoey Luna) — rescue her in the restrooms with kind words and a clean pair of shorts.
When they spot the four-quadrant pendant around her neck, they intuit that Lily is the compass point they’ve been missing — the West to their North, South and East; the water to their earth, wind and fire. Lily is unaware of her gift, but when douchey jock Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) mocks her and she slams him into a locker with superhuman force, their collective craft suddenly starts cooking.
In Andrew Fleming’s 1996 film, which starred Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell and Rachel True alongside Balk, it took time and practice for the fortified band to hone their spells, fueling a sense of escalating danger and excitement as that happened. Here they draw a magic circle in the woods, spout an incantation, and hey presto, they’re suspending time, levitating, humiliating homophobes (the one oblique reference to the casting of trans actress Luna), freezing the cafeteria action to subvert the social order and communicating telepathically. Lily even goes full-Carrie with some quick telekinesis displays.
All this is quite enjoyable, and the women are appealing if under-developed. But it’s over as soon as it’s begun, fading out much like the Princess Nokia track they slow-mo dance to at a school party, without ever providing much intimate knowledge of them. Only Frankie, a KStew stan with a goofy sense of humor, has something approaching a personality. Even by the end of it, I kept having to remember the other two by their physical characteristics since they don’t appear to have names beyond the credits. Considering Lister-Jones’ background as an actor (Life in Pieces, Lola Versus) as well as writer and director, the lack of character nuance is disappointing.
Their spell to help obnoxious Timmy locate his better self works wonders, turning him overnight into the poster boy for woke sensitivity. He reads Janet Mock, rails against heteronormativity and reveals a secret that is this movie’s most interesting twist. Playing a more complex counterpart to Skeet Ulrich’s scuzzy man-whore in The Craft, Galitzine brings unexpected enhancement to the outsider theme, but again, he disappears almost before he’s had time to make a mark.
The real tension is focused not at school but in Lily’s new home, where visions of snakes have sent a chill down her spine since arrival. Adam is a successful author and lecturer specializing in the crisis of contemporary masculinity. But it doesn’t take his mansplaining rebuke of Lily over her act of violence against Timmy to figure out he’s an unreconstructed masculinist in disguise. This is where The Craft: Legacy flounders, since Duchovny can do smug and creepy, but he’s out of his depth with anything more demanding. He’s a poor substitute for the demented grandiosity of the original’s finale.
Lister-Jones does at least have the good sense to bring the entire quartet back into play and late developments tie the plot directly to that of its predecessor, complete with a tantalizing cameo that won’t be revealed here. But aside from composer Heather Christian’s cool techno theme on the end credits — which is far more memorable than the timid scoring throughout — Legacy left me less than spellbound.
Production companies: Blumhouse, Red Wagon
Cast: Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, Zoey Luna, Nicholas Galitzine, Michelle Monaghan, David Duchovny, Julian Gray, Charles Vandervaart, Donald MacLean Jr.
Director-screenwriter: Zoe Lister-Jones
Producers: Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, Jason Blum
Executive producers: Andrew Fleming, Lucas Wiesendanger, Daniel Bekerman, Beatriz Sequiera, Jeanette Volturno, Couper Samuelson, Zoe Lister-Jones, Natalia Anderson
Director of photography: Hillary Spera
Production designer: Hillary Gurtler
Costume designer: Avery Plewes
Music: Heather Christian
Editor: Libby Cuenin
Casting: Terri Taylor, Sarah Domeier Lindo
Rated PG-13, 94 minutes
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