‘The Craft: Legacy’ Gives the Proper Message within the Unsuitable Film | Evaluate

I saw 1996’s The Craft for the first time back in January, and my major take away from the cult classic is that while it had some clear appeal, especially with its subtext of female empowerment, the story and direction coming from two men added a layer of “Don’t run too far, too fast,” which slightly defanged the film’s strongest aspect. Over twenty years later and writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones has taken us back to that world with The Craft: Legacy, a movie that loudly echoes certain plot beats from the first movie while never quite recognizing that the reason The Craft works so well is that it’s about women finding their power. For Lister-Jones’ movie, that power is always grounded in its relationship to men, which creates a fascinating subtext about masculine attitudes, but that’s not really why people were drawn to the 1996 movie. Despite a strong cast and a well-intentioned message about feminine power and unity, clumsy plotting and weak character development undermine The Craft: Legacy.

Lily (Cailee Spaeny) and her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan) are moving in with Helen’s new husband Adam (David Duchovny), a motivational speaker for men, and his three sons. Lily has a rough go of it at her first day at school, especially when she’s bullied mercilessly by the handsome Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) after she has her period in the middle of class. Luckily for Lily, classmates Tabby (Lovie Simone), Frankie (Gideon Adlon), and Lourdes (Zoey Luna) are looking for a fourth to join their coven and quickly befriend the shy teenager. Lily already carries innate powers she doesn’t even know about, and the four becomes fast friends and even cast a spell on Timmy that turns him woke and sensitive. But when matters take a dark turn, the friends wonder if they should really hold onto their powers.

If you’ve seen 1996’s The Craft, these plot beats should sound vaguely familiar—new girl in town; makes friends with witches; they cast a spell on a hot guy so he stops being a bully; the new girl starts to fall for that hot guy. Lister-Jones takes these plot beats and then tries to steer the ship in a new direction, and rather than create any conflict between the witches, the film doesn’t have much conflict at all until its third act. Instead, it chooses to spend its energy on Timmy’s feelings. Whereas the original Craft had each young woman dealing with her own trauma, these witches don’t have much of an interior life beyond being outsiders who have fun casting spells together. Without that focus, Lister-Jones’ attention seems to drift more to toxic masculinity and how it affects feminine power.

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Image via Sony Pictures

I suppose the argument could be made that you can’t tell a story about feminine power without addressing how that power is feared and loathed by toxic masculinity, but within the narrative of The Craft: Legacy, that means ceding a lot of ground towards how men feel and their own fears and inhibitions. On the one hand, I think that’s great to have a film address those issues. We need our popular culture to tell men that their feelings are okay, that they don’t have to show strength through domination, and that sensitivity makes you a better person. But seeing that in a Craftsequel/reboot/remake is kind of infuriating! It feels like Lister-Jones took a story with a large legion of female fans, and then said, “This is good, but can we focus it more on the Skeet Ulrich character and what he’s going through?” No one watches The Craft for Skeet Ulrich! It’s not his movie or his story! It belongs to the women, but The Craft: Legacyhas difficulty creating a bridge between defeating toxic masculinity and celebrating feminine power.

The fact that nothing of consequence really even happens until the second act turn should tell you that Legacy is kind of undercooked and lacks the dark energy of the first movie. The film rarely feels dangerous, and instead smooths off the rough edges in favor of an uplifting message that’s understandable but placed in the wrong context. Lister-Jones obviously didn’t need to play by the rules of the first movie, but it’s odd that she chooses to take its starting plot beats while discarding the women at its center, especially when she has a terrific quartet in Spaeny, Simone, Adlon, and Luna.

I can’t call myself a die-hard fan of The Craft, and perhaps I’m way off base here. Perhaps those who have fallen for the 1996 movie will be excited to return to a story of four teenage girls casting spells. But the female-power narrative of the original largely doesn’t exist in Legacy except at the very end where it feels tacked-on and unearned because so little time has been spent with the witches themselves. Instead, in its worst moments, The Craft: Legacy plays like a story where women feel responsibility for the feelings of men and dictate their feminine power based on those feelings. Toxic masculinity is something men have to sort out; women don’t need to carry that baggage, and they probably don’t need it in a Craft movie either.

Rating: C-

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