Review – The Craft: Legacy

Craft Legacy poster

Overview

Synopsis Sequel to The Craft, four teenage girls form a coven to improve their witchcraft, but they quickly find out their power is highly desired.

Length 1 hour, 37 minutes

Release Date October 28, 2020

 

Rating PG-13

Distribution Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) (theatrical), Amazon Prime Video (all media)

Directing Zoe Lister-Jones

Writing Zoe Lister-Jones

Composition Heather Christian

Starring Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, Zoey Luna, Nicholas Galitzine, Michelle Monaghan, David Duchovny

Witchcraft. In relation to its presentation in media, it’s a subject that always seems to have the Christian community concerned despite it neither seemingly increasing or decreasing its impact in society over the last few decades. It’s important not to undermine the seriousness of the topic, as worshipping other forces is no laughing matter. Although there is a big difference between stories that operate as a warning, fantasy narratives that use magic as purely a plot device, tales that actively promote and encourage viewers to join the occult, and actually performing the sin itself.

After all, depiction does not always equal endorsement. The Craft walked that fine line back in 1996. With Wiccan experts consulted for the production, it was one of the more accurate depictions of witchcraft in film history, although most people enjoyed the movie more for it’s portrayal of the female high school experience (also one of only a handful in cinema at the time). While it showed teens having fun with their newfound abilities, it also documented horrible consequences for their actions, ultimately presenting a narrative that demonstrated witchcraft was complex, risky and too dangerous to be worth pursuing.

It’s been almost a quarter of a century since the original film was released. Will its long-awaited sequel carry the mantle of being this generation’s warning sign about the dangers of witchcraft and occult practices?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: A character is burned to death (only flames are seen). Other character deaths are mentioned in conversation but not shown or discussed in great detail. People are thrown and injured through telekinetic powers. There are multiple shots of snakes. A Ouija board is used. One character appears demonic with solid black eyes. Characters try to kill each other with magic powers.

Language/Crude Humor: The s-word is said multiple times. Minor swears including variations of *ss, d*ck and h*ll are said. God’s name is used in vain several times.

Drug/Alcohol References: A bong is seen in a teenager’s room. A sip of wine is offered to an underage teen. Alcohol is consumed socially during party sequences but not to excess.

Sexual Content: A male teen is caught in his bed topless, while it’s hinted that he’s masturbating to pornography underneath the sheets. A topless female teen is seen from the back while she steps into a bath. It’s implied that a female teen is masturbating in bed (shot only shows her face). A character reveals they are bisexual. One character is trans female. A character finds and holds up a used condom (although the condom itself is hidden from view in the shot). A girl is teased heavily as her period bleeds through her jeans. Menstrual blood is seen and sanitary items are mentioned numerous times. A teen boy and girl kiss passionately. A sex ed video about consent is screened during one classroom scene. Some paintings featuring nude woman are shown briefly in a clip.

Spiritual Content: The film follows the story of four teenage girls that practice an over-exaggerated form of Wicca. Multiple occult references and rituals are performed, with the movie depicting detailed chants and processes. The girls manage to develop supernatural powers such as telepathy, telekinesis, elemental projections and occasionally their auras glow. The villain possesses similar powers but are darker in nature, with the movie alluding to rituals that require the death of another person. A Ouija board is used at one stage.

Other Negative Content: Set in high school, teenagers are seen bullying each other. Spells are cast and people are manipulated against their will.

Positive Content: The main cast are seen to be open and caring individuals, mindful of the harm they might be causing others and are quick to rectify or halt any wrongdoings.

Review

Have you seen The Craft recently? It’s certainly a by-product of its time, where it seemingly managed to capture the very essence of the 90s high school experience. Despite only featuring an average plot, there were many aspects that held the viewer’s attention as the film felt so naturally at ease with itself in regards to tone, style, and dialogue. In a cinematic world that was back then largely devoid of female-driven casts and narratives that explored female teen behavior, The Craft didn’t gain a cult following purely because it was a rare film that featured witchcraft, but also because it was ahead of its time in terms of representation.

It’s always a hard task to create a sequel. It’s even more difficult when the original is synonymous with a certain time period. Sequels generally must find the balance between adopting the essence of its predecessor so the two works feel connected, whilst also crafting its own sense of self and not merely copying the original beat for beat. The Craft: Legacy must be given credit for at least trying to make the best of both worlds. Unfortunately the story it does try to tell is presented poorly.

Since the 90s vibe was one of the cornerstones to the original’s appeal, Legacy attempts to hijack it despite being set in modern times. They listen to music from the era. They take photos of themselves with a Polaroid camera as though cell phones on selfie sticks were never a thing. Sadly it’s genuinely weird now to see teens hanging out without a piece of technology in either their hands or ears, and none of it appears for the first half hour of the movie. So it takes a while to get settled into the film’s setting as it tries so very hard to evoke the 90s. But, no. Try as it might, it doesn’t even come close to its glory. Then they drop words like “cisgender” into conversation and all 90s illusion is completely lost.

The end of the millennium also brought forth the cessation of that Goth phase that so perfectly permeated the culture of the original film. It immediately evoked a sense of otherness with the main cast compared to their high school peers, whilst also symbolizing their need to express themselves in alternative ways, particularly when they were Wiccans studying in a Catholic high school. That brand of 90s culture can’t be replicated in this modern sequel, even though the costume designers have tried to evoke a similar look. So instantly we have a sequel that fails to capture that same sense of style of the original; an aspect that was so defining of the first. Legacy feels so bland by comparison.

Then there are the characters. For a while Legacy feels like a direct remake of the original: three teen witches need to find a fourth girl for their coven and so they befriend a talented newcomer. The Craft was so relatable because the teens were simultaneously self-centered and friendly, genuine and catty. They were immature and flawed in a world that was quickly turning adult-centric. Each had their own story to tell and a reason to practice witchcraft, whether it was to overcome bullying, their self-consciousness regarding their appearance, to feel wanted and loved, and to find power in a hopeless situation. They were teens dealing with their angst and their motivations were understandable and believable.

That predatory sense of recruitment is missing from Legacy. One of the few positive aspects about this film is that the girls are supportive of one another and seem to build a genuine friendship. They’re conscientious and self-aware, quick to see the error of their ways and shut down the possibility of further mistakes. They seem to be a lovely group of friends that would be nice to have in the real world… except this is a film. It seems the writer and director has forgotten drama is needed for conflict, which is a basic necessity for narrative storytelling.

There is little to no character development in this film, which makes it grossly inferior to the original. Instead of each witch having her own personal demon to solve, now we have three nameless teens and the main character, Lily, and we only remember her name because we literally see her birth certificate. What’s frustrating is that the foundation for a deeper backstory for each of the four characters is laid, but it’s as though anything remotely interesting has been discarded on the cutting room floor.

In a fascinating tidbit of dialogue, one of the girls reminds the others that she’s trans. It’s the first film I’ve seen where such information is merely mentioned in passing, where characters shrug and continue on with their lives as opposed to this forming the focus of the movie. It is oddly refreshing, as this type of acceptance seems to be the ultimate goal for the movement. Yet at the same time, in a film where nothing is happening, it feels grossly overlooked, like The Room’s (2003) breast cancer moment. When the director is touting how her film is more progressive than any other in Hollywood at the moment because they’ve cast a transgender actor in a transgender role, the fact this “main” role is essentially a glorified extra makes the gesture feel tokenistic. Even more irritating is the fact the villain’s worldview would conflict with this character’s sense of personal identity, but the movie seems allergic to fleshing out any remotely intriguing storyline.

In the same way, the Black American girl’s character is that she’s Black American. The film includes a game of Two Truths and a Lie as a way for the characters to literally state their troubles, in which this teen reveals that she feels racially isolated. Once again, there’s a hint of something interesting but it’s never explored. The movie tells but doesn’t show. The Craft is over two decades old and yet it portrayed racial issues better than this story set in a time period that is supposed to be woke to these problems.

The other girl is a Twilight fan? I don’t know. Who cares? All that’s really memorable is that they each represent an element—air, earth, fire, water—and when they combine it’s as dorky as summoning Captain Planet. No, really; their aura starts glowing and they begin to shapeshift the environment like Avatar: The Last Airbender rejects. Numerous times we see flames erupt from a girl’s finger, using her hand as a blowtorch. It’s laughable.

In the original film the powers were subtler, where half the time it was questionable as to whether some events were merely coincidences. This time around the girls are surprisingly competent and they cover most of the spells seen in first film in a brief montage. Legacy takes the magic out of learning magic. The teens giggle and give the impression they’re fooling around, though as the film progresses, what little personalities they had are sucked away. The audience is fooled into thinking the sequel will contain the same lessons as the original, where careless teens are taught to “be careful what they wish for”, and to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, but instead we’re treated to a bait and switch as this narrative trail fades out.

The girls just aren’t that fun to watch. If you’ve ever wanted to stare at a screen and come to bizarre conclusions like, “I think this needs more hedonism” whilst munching on popcorn, here’s your chance. Even during a party sequence the teens entertain themselves by listening to identity politics. Never realized how much wilder 90s parties were portrayed in cinema until now.

A glimmer of hope is found in a side character. A spell has been cast and it wields interesting results in regards to its interpretation. Suddenly a new conflict erupts, and whilst it’s about a character’s sexuality, which isn’t as rare in cinema as the writer thinks it to be, at this stage the audience is craving for any sort of drama whatsoever. But that story arc is also teased before being torn away from eager viewers.

We’re three-quarters of the way through the movie now, and the scariest thing that’s happened is the occurrence of a men’s support group (because, you know, women can’t be empowered without the need to highlight toxic masculinity). To be fair, The Craft was a lukewarm horror film—it never evoked feelings of terror like others in the genre, although some sequences contained horror elements. The Craft: Legacy meanwhile, seems to completely forget its own identity as it muddles about somewhere between a coming of age narrative and a psychological family drama. Then it remembers there’s supposed to be some kind of representation of evil and clumsily dumps it all in within the last twenty minutes of screen time.

Do my eyes deceive me? Or is this film listed as a horror?

For the longest time, The Craft: Legacy walks the tightrope between depiction and endorsement when it comes to being woke. Just because a film features characters discussing current social justice issues, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a “woke” movie. Once again, depiction doesn’t equal endorsement. Yet when two of the narrative plotlines fall through and a third and final storyline is suddenly raised, the film loses all finesse and takes a nosedive into woke territory. It’s not as insultingly bad as Black Christmas, but it’s on the spectrum sitting somewhere alongside Antebellum. Most irksome is that buried within its atrocious third act, there is a nugget of a decent horror film concept in there, it just needed to develop the ideas and character relationships better, make smarter use of its runtime, and stay true to the genre a bit more.

The problem with wokeness in cinema isn’t to do with the issues they raise, rather it’s in their presentation. They commit similar sins to the Christian films that were being produced a decade ago. In those, Christian characters were flawless as they came up against over exaggerated, one-dimensional “evil” atheists that needed to see the error of their ways. They didn’t work as movies because they rang untrue. They presented false dichotomies and immature, overly simplified worldviews. It’s hard to immerse oneself into a cinematic world when it has no meaningful resonance with the real one. People make the mistake of thinking that spinning tales is about creating lies, when in actuality good fictional stories try to do the opposite and expose the truth in the world. The best films are the ones written and directed by people that don’t pretend they know all the answers, and instead they use their art to try and genuinely explore questions, issues, problems and themes. In The Craft: Legacy, there is no genuine exploration as to why women should feel empowered, rather women are good simply because men are bad. In this way, “woke” films are like older Christian films, except they swap out religious indoctrination and preach modern social issues instead with so little nuance that it insults the audience’s intelligence. Viewers want to go on a journey and arrive at their own conclusion, not just be told the destination.

But where does The Craft: Legacy sit on the depiction/endorsement scale when it comes to witchcraft? Contrary to its predecessor, this sequel irresponsibly leaves out a lot of the darkness. The concepts and rules of the first movie, where balance and order must be maintained and things can come back times three, are disturbingly absent here. The witches pause time and play around with the elements (albeit at a lesser scale to Nancy from the first film) with no consequences. The one time things do appear to backfire can later be seen as a misinterpretation of the events. Since this film series stays fairly close to actual Wiccan practices, it’s certainly possible naïve little girls will watch this and believe they can obtain powers if they study Wicca.

Let’s make one thing clear: there is room out there for pro-Wiccan films. If Christians wish to carve out a space in the art form to represent their beliefs, then it’s only fair that Wiccans have the freedom to do the same. We probably won’t enjoy or watch each other’s religious films, but that’s okay. Where we most likely see eye-to-eye is that neither one of us want to see kids dabbling in things they have no understanding about. In one scene a character mentions how they’ve been using a Ouija board by themselves. The other character just nods along, thinks it’s cool, and then encourages them further. Since when has that ever been a good idea!?

Naturally the levels of the witches’ powers are over the top, to the point where it’s the equivalent of a Christian film where God positively answers every one of a believer’s prayers like a genie. Obviously it doesn’t work like that. The beliefs of Wiccans are misrepresented in this film. Even when it comes to the themes—their theology teaches the balance in nature, both male and female. There is this misunderstanding in society that Christianity is heavily patriarchal, where some people have gone so far and turned to Pagan belief systems as it seems friendlier towards femininity. But even Wiccans aren’t on board with cinema’s current obsession and constant portrayal of toxic masculinity, as both male and female energies are important to them, and one cannot be suppressed in favor of another. This isn’t to say that depicting toxic masculinity isn’t important, but over the last 250 films I’ve watched, I’ve only seen positive masculinity portrayed once, and that was surprisingly within Doctor Sleep (where they had a non-scary men’s group). So despite The Craft: Legacy taking a pro-Wiccan stance, these are the issues with the film that both religions will find problematic.

Even without looking at the film through a Christian lens, The Craft: Legacy is a bad movie. It pales in comparison to the original. Legacy feels horribly rushed, covering many story ideas but never fully exploring a single one. Some parts are scripted so loosely that it’s easy to become confused. Watching The Craft is recommended (because it’s the better film) merely to appreciate the call backs in the first act. There is one narrative thread that connects the two films (which would be confusing for those that haven’t seen The Craft), but like everything else, it’s haphazardly shoehorned in a cramped yet empty script. It makes so little impact on the story that it’s hard to label The Craft: Legacy a true sequel. Instead this movie feels like a soft reboot; the first in a series of films about a group of girls with superpowers, featuring featherweight horror and terrible CGI that will only thrill pre-teens. It’s Blumhouse’s newest franchise. Ugh! Kill it with fire.

Positives

+ They seem like a nice group of friends.
+ Appreciation for the original only grows.

Negatives

- Pro-Wiccan.
- Film can't decide and stick to a story line.
- Tries to be 90s in modern times.
- Goes full woke.
- Bad CGI.
- Fails to develop characters or conflict.
- Barely a sequel and more of a soft reboot as a way to kickstart a new Blumhouse franchise.
- Characters lack flaws. Actions lack consequences.
- Powers are laughable.
- Hubie Halloween is a) more interesting, and b) a better horror film even though it's listed as a comedy.

The Bottom Line

This film’s only legacy is that it demonstrates just how great and under appreciated the original movie was.

 

3.6

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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