FILM REVIEW: THE CRAFT LEGACY doesn’t add much to the legacy of The Craft


Writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones’ follow-up to the 1996 cult classic The Craft runs short of the compelling characters & storylines of the original with a jumbled film that doesn’t really come together.

It’d be very hard to argue that the 1996 film The Craft doesn’t have a strong legacy in the genre storytelling world and among fandom to this day. It was a popular film that inspired the WB/CW television series Charmed in its wake and it’s not hard to see how the film has a built-in formula for success that is easy to observe. A group of edgy girls on the outside-looking-in find empowerment and powers to make a difference in their lives through practicing witchcraft. Charmed rode this formula for success for 8 seasons, with a reboot of the show currently renewed for a 3rd season. The Craft is a cult classic that is well-regarded today with memorable roles from actresses Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Rachel True, and Neve Campbell in a film where the four are outsiders in a Catholic high school finding empowerment and camaraderie through the bond they find practicing witchcraft. With a template this clear, you would think it’d be a matter of child’s play to update the film for a modern audience and make it relevant and timely. Sadly, The Craft Legacy is largely a letdown in that regard, with a lot of characterization by plot demands after a promising start that try to hit beats from the original at the expense of carving its own unique story.

Lister-Jones makes an effort to tell a timely story. Her film picks up in the modern-day 24 years after the events of the original film. Here, we meet Lily (A Bad Time at The El Royale’s Cailee Spaeny) playing a character very analogous to Robin Tunney’s outsider in the first film; a new girl moving into a new and uncomfortable situation from out of town. However, in this take on the lead girl, her mom Helen is still alive, played by Mission Impossible’s Michelle Monaghan. She’s a wild-eyed free spirit that loves singing Alanis Morrisette with her daughter loudly in the car, but now she’s fallen hard for Adam (David Duchovny), a single father of 3 boys who runs an encounter group for men that seems one part Men’s Rights Activist group, one part Fight Club, with Adam as it’s a sensitive version of Tyler Durden. The two are blending their families and starting a new life ala The Brady Bunch, but Lily is the odd girl out in her family. Lily also doesn’t have a great first day at school, as her first period hits her on her first day of class, and she’s humiliated by classmate Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine). Much in the vein of Carrie, her first blood activates something in Lily; something that doesn’t go unnoticed by a trio of would-be schoolgirl witches in Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone), and Lourdes (Zoey Luna). The three have been looking for a fourth girl to join their coven and they sense that when some supernatural shenanigans seem to emanate from Lily, that the four are meant to study ‘The Craft’ together, as their witchcraft book is called. Soon enough, the group is freezing time and floating, even casting spells on Timmy to make him more “woke.” It’s here where it seems the movie is going with a unique spin from the original as their spells don’t exact a negative cost as the original coven in The Craft’s did. But when ‘Woke Timmy’ seems to have killed himself after Lily decided to place a love spell on him. The other girls turn on her, and Lily starts to wonder if the dark visions she’s been having might be an inkling of a dark “legacy” to the origins of her powers.

This all sounds good on paper, but the main problem with The Craft Legacy is that it seems way too eager to check off touchstone scenes from the original, as well as seeming to also checkoff timely notions of inclusiveness rather than fully integrating them into the film in a way that comes off jarring and insincere in its origins. Lily’s coven’s characterizations are skin deep if that, with most of their names only mentioned once in the film and some character’s like Luna’s transgender Coven member Lourdes given almost no dialogue or personality aside from her green hair. Tabby’s powers end up being tied to her sign of Fire so any characterization moments are her using manifestations of fire. Adlon’s Frankie tends to be the mouthpiece for the group, but only to seemingly signal which line or scene from the original Craft is going to be aped. The group itself has good chemistry in the few scenes we see them interacting early on, but it’s one of those situations where situations arise where friends would act a certain way, and here their decisions are driven more by plot points from the original Craft in an obnoxious way. As Lily finds herself locked out of the group, she finds out seemingly by accident that she may be adopted; her legacy of powers may be a literal one, and one that most viewers will figure out very quickly is tied to the original 1996 film. The question really is, does this add anything to the film? Unfortunately, the answer is no; and it’s disappointing that the film seems to lose interest in many of the unique plot elements of its own it seems to set up early, to deliver a Scooby-Doo style bait and switch when it comes to its main antagonist. Spaeny has some screen charisma, but it’s not enough to carry the whole film, which seems as if it has no real reason for existing. Duchovny seems to not be the disciplinarian and father he shows himself as and it becomes a case of Lily needing to find herself and her inner strength before she loses everything she holds dear. This would be a good thread to base the film around, but the film seems more interested in dancing around her origin without ever really saying too much about it, which is pretty disappointing, save for a rushed third act.

A bigger issue with the film is also that it really isn’t saying anything unique about empowerment or self-actualization through ‘The Craft’ the original did. It takes its queues from the original film far too literally and to the wholesale ignoring of character motivation to do so. In the original, when Fairuza Balk’s Nancy kills Skeet Ulrich’s Chris, it leads to Robin Tunney’s Sarah binding Nancy from doing harm to others. Here, when Timmy meets with some tragedy, the girls’ first instinct is to bind Lily, even though it makes no sense to do so. Their only queue to do so seems to mimic a plot point from the original. That by and large is the most disappointing thing about the film. We don’t get an original Craft story, we see a movie that seems intent to hit specific beats with little characterization work done to earn those beats. Comparing this film to the trailer, there are a multitude of scenes shown that aren’t actually in the finished film or are in it but in a completely different context and it seems likely that this was a sort of picture by committee. There’s very little new or unique in The Craft Legacy. The film tries its best to be inoffensive to its detriment, there are no characters to help guide the girls in their path, or even really a story about the corruption of power. Lister-Jones wants to tell a story about men taking power from women and lines up stereotypes of the types of women who are the victims of men in power and tries to say they’re being actualized because they’re confronting their oppressors with magic, but we never see learned consequences. The film leaves a lot of dangling threads and doesn’t really seem interested in a sequel to follow up further on them.

Ultimately, The Craft Legacy is a very missed opportunity to either follow up on the original or tell a timely story about overcoming the overreach of authority in a post-Trump world through inclusivity and empowerment. The film sets both those points in motion and then doesn’t really do anything interesting with them at all. There is a cameo from one of the original stars of the film to try to tie the two together, but even this comes off as empty fan-service for fans of the original, since without context it won’t work for new fans and there really isn’t anything here to make a new generation of fans of this incarnation. In the end, Legacy doesn’t work, and that’s a real shame.

– 1 out of 5 stars
An Unnecessary sequel that doesn’t do anything interesting with its premise or backstory.