The Craft: Legacy [Video Review]
Magic, the Gathering: Lister-Jones Misplaces a Mythos with Missed Opportunity Sequel
There’s no inherently proper way to engage in genre, which is what makes the promise of fear, titillation and terror a lucrative draw for audiences hoping to experience the anxiety and dread conjured by a ‘horror’ film. Even offerings which are shamelessly derivative might present some small kernels of originality, a payoff in perverse gore or a captivating performance. In short, horror movie aficionados are often flexible, considering horror as a genre was once considered too lowbrow for censorship, and thus a stomping ground for progressive representation and subversive subtexts.
Horror films, despite a mainstream dismantling of their power, still hold an innate promise to generate fear. So, it’s extremely disappointing when the opportunity to recreate a persuasive and memorable narrative has the opposite effect of its source material. Butchering the Gen-X femme zenith of punk witchcraft films comes actress/director Zoe Lister-Jones with The Craft: Legacy, a sequel to Andrew Fleming’s beloved 1996 cult flick which gave us Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Rachel True and Neve Campbell as an angry quartet of young women who unite their power of the dark arts and wreak havoc on their onerous, ignorant peers. For fans of the original, this sanitized, milquetoast offering masquerades as an intersectional feminist take but finds itself so wrapped up in presentation it forgets to characterize them beyond superficiality.
Lily (Cailee Spaeny) is being moved into the home of her mother Helen’s (Michelle Monaghan) new boyfriend, Adam (David Duchovny), though she has never met the man or his three teenage sons. It turns out Adam is a noted author of discourse celebrating the importance of masculinity. But we learn little else of him as Lily enters a new school where the onslaught of menstruation brings her into the orbit of three plucky friends, Tabby (Lovie Simone), Frankie (Gideon Adlon) and Lourdes (Zoey Luna), who believe themselves to be witches. However, they have long been in search of their fourth, which they believe Lily to be. The young women discover together they can wield their power, and their first move is to cast a spell on school bully Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine). Since Timmy is friends with one of her step-brothers, Lily is brought into frequent contact with him, leading her to cast a side spell of her own. When he suddenly dies, her new friends believe her rogue use of magic is the cause and they bind themselves and her from utilizing any more of their powers. However, it seems a much darker force is at play and desires to rob Lily of her innate abilities.
The power of the horror film is how it allows for a comingling of protagonists and antagonists to serve the narrative—good people do bad things, and not every type of person should be representative of a whole group of people. In the case Lourdes, one feels as if Lister-Jones is tip-toeing around her when clearly (considering how this is linked to the 1996 film) this should have been the centralized character—what would a young trans woman really wish for, really use her power for? Likewise, Lovie Simone as Tabby has much less to do than, say, Rachel True’s angry young Black woman cursing her racist bully.
Homophobia and racism should not be the defining struggles of Black and LGBTQ+ characters, per se, but these are contemporary issues which continue to define and traumatize, so simply ignoring their existence denies the cathartic power of what was The Craft, and making the straight cis white girl the focal point only subverts the intention of the original. So, with her three cohorts more or less dispatched as an undifferentiated triptych, all of the narrative energy is placed upon the head of Cailee Spaeny’s Lily, lost in a web of plot holes. Why is her mother unphased about hearing her daughter’s menstruation caused a firestorm at school? And what was Helen’s life with Lily prior to a U-Haul taking them to Duchovny’s hotbed of masculine tendencies? The selfish desires of the women in the original eventually tear them asunder, but these youngsters don’t really seem to have any self-serving desires of their own, presented as magical composites, not un-like those awfully helpful drag queens in Too Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995).
Much like Sophia Takal’s silly take on Black Christmas (2019), this sequel to The Craft (which plays like a loose remake until a major reveal), there’s an awkward insistence on presenting the white heteropatriarchy as an insidious group of warlocks. But they have the control anyway. White straight men continue to be cultural gatekeepers who manage to keep their power in the real world without the help of magical powers. Putting them on equal footing with the extraordinary women of The Craft only demeans what makes the catharsis of witches and witchcraft so potent in the first place.
While there are some interesting updates, such as making school bully Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine, who ends up being the best part of the film) into a woke feminist simply by ‘cursing’ him with the removal of the toxic masculinity which required him to behave like a neanderthal, the little bits of queerness here aren’t enough to celebrate Lister-Jones as truly progressing the material. Menstruation can and truly should be used as a dramatic catalyst (seeing as it remains taboo), but we’re decades past Carrie (1976), a young woman traumatized into ‘plugging it up,’ but also logically ignorant due to her upbringing at the hands of an ignorant religious zealot—why this happens to Lily without any additional explanation suggests this is a continual right of passage for women, to experience public shame and embarrassment (and also suggests the characterization of Lily and Helen is woefully off).
And a witchy montage set to Sharon Van Etten’s beautiful track “Seventeen” also feels misplaced—the lyrics concern a mid-30s woman looking back on her teenage self. The witches in the original film are treated to a whole eerie, iconic sequence with their ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ moment. Here, their magic is merely the stuff of fluffy sleepovers (and think how powerful “Seventeen” would have played if it announced the final sequence).
Lister-Jones whips up a sequel to a formidable exploration of women’s rage and delivers a film which is more afraid of saying the wrong thing then its audience will ever be of what it’s trying to say. It should be another angry scream into the void, a product delivered three decades later where little has changed in a country which prizes misogyny and demeans female agency.