The Craft: Legacy (2020)
Let the ritual begin.
There’s no reason a long lead sequel to The Craft couldn’t work. The 1996 teen witch supernatural thriller is a cult classic for a reason, and of all the goth/horror cinema that came out in the mid-’90s, its cultural footprint only lags behind Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) and Alex Proyas’ The Crow (1994). The TV series Charmed (1998 – 2006), which was also rebooted recently, only exists because The Craft found an audience, which is to say there is definitely a demographic out there who will show up for magical modern tales of young women harnessing their power in the face of patriarchal oppression.
They probably shouldn’t show up for The Craft: Legacy, which takes some truly interesting ideas and a decent cast only to lumber them with amateurish direction from second-time feature helmer Zoe Lister-Jones, Band Aid (2017), who is also responsible for the timid script. Legacy frustrates because it’s almost good, and while a genuinely bad movie is easy to dismiss, one which is off by a few small but crucial degrees is as annoying as a mosquito bite or razor rash.
In the broad strokes, The Craft 2020 maps onto the original pretty closely, at least in terms of set up. Moving to a new town, young Lily (Cailee Spaeny) falls in with a trio of outcasts — Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone), and Lourdes (Zoey Luna) — who are, of course, a nascent witch coven looking for their fourth. Lily fits the bill, but, as often happens in these cases, magic goes awry, somebody dies, and there must come a reckoning.
Well, kind of. One thing in Legacy’s favor is that it subverts some of the thematic and narrative elements in the original film that haven’t aged too well. In the ’96 version of The Craft, the coven are the villains, with good girl Robin Tunney ultimately going toe to toe with mad witch Fairuza Balk and her former friends, and the lesson is that power — and in this case, explicitly feminine power — corrupts and good girls don’t dabble in the divine occult. Here we get a patriarchal villain in the form of Lily’s stepfather Adam (a tired-looking David Duchovny, who seems bored with everything going on here), who turns out to be a kind of super-masc cult leader who wants to seize Lily’s power for his own. In text, we’re told that he’s a pagan, but his name and that of his three sons, Abraham (Julian Grey), Jacob (Charles Vandervaart), and Isaiah (Donald MacLean Jr.), hint at Judeo-Christian villainy that really should have been explicit.
That’s an interesting idea, and so is the presence of transgender actor Zoey Luna, Pose (2019), as part of the coven, her gender identity noted but not highlighted, quietly subverting the notion of strictly gendered supernatural power. Less successful is the whole ongoing plotline where the gang put a spell on hunky bully Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) to make him more ‘woke,’ a notion that offers a few laughs but quickly becomes overcooked. Timmy’s eventual revelation of a gay experience that flies in the face of his original school jock persona should be a standout moment; rather, it lands with a thud. Kudos to Lister-Jones for choosing to make the original’s queer subtext just plain old text in this one (we should be well beyond the celluloid closet by now), but execution matters, and Timmy’s thread splits the difference between box-ticking and self-parody.
Elsewhere, plot threads and story elements are left to dangle. Adam’s cult/self-help group? Largely unexplored. How his sons feel about his alpha papa attitudes and whether they are complicit in his evil? One brief scene aside, unexplored. Instead, we hurry to an underwhelming climax where the coven takes on Adam in a remote location, which feels less like a narrative choice and more a concession to filming in the time of Covid and ensuring that as few people are on set as possible.
And yet a) we spend more time on the question of Lily’s parentage (it turns out her mother, played by Michelle Monaghan, is not her birth mother, and given what this film is a sequel to, you have a one in three chance of puzzling out who her biological mother is) and b) no free rides, right? If the makers of Host (2020), now streaming on Shudder, can cobble together a decent horror flick while in iso, then this production, which as a Blumhouse joint had vastly greater resources available to them, should be able to spit out an of-the-moment teen witch flick without too much trouble. And let’s face facts: without throwing unnecessary shade on The Craft as a concept, the bar for success is not dizzyingly high. The design goal here is a teen-optimized PG-13 light horror movie, which is not a big ask, and the fact that the finished product falls short of that is damning.
Of course, it could be that I’m just not the target audience here, which is fine; not every film is for every viewer, and if you can plug into what The Craft: Legacy is doing, then, by all means, ignore all of the above (hey, the original didn’t impress the critics back in the day, either). But given my genre preferences, I kind of doubt it. The Craft: Legacy is, more than anything else, a missed opportunity. We could have had a new, updated, femme-fantasy future cult classic. Instead, we have this forgettable mess.
Nice cameo in the coda, though.
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Travis Johnson