Film Review: The Craft: Legacy

Directed by: Zoe Lister-Jones; Runtime: 97 minutes
Grade: D-

Something worth discussing before digging too far into the pseudo-sequel/remake The Craft: Legacy: my relationship with the original film, spanning nearly a quarter-century now, has had its ups and downs. When revisiting it a little over ten years ago for the first time since the late-‘90s, the tale of a foursome of young women forming into a powerful coven seemed like an overly straightforward and dated occult thriller, merely supported by the strength of the actresses and how they embody the individual witches. After a more recent screening during the Halloween season, those impressions remain intact, but the examination of these characters’ internal motivations for being drawn to magic and the incremental build towards their synergy as a coven speak much louder than they once did. If anything, The Craft: Legacy only strengthens those new positive impressions and makes the original look far, far better in comparison, as any criticisms aimed at superficial characteristics or rushed friendships and understandings of witchcraft are vastly more fitting here, and that’s just the start of the issues.

The Craft: Legacy exists in a very strange middle-ground between whether it’s a remake or not, as it follows many of the same plot points as the original but with entirely new characters and circumstances. It begins with a family moving into a new house, where a teenage girl -- this time, named Lily (Cailee Spaeny) -- exhibits powers that they don’t fully understand, and kicks into gear with her first day at a new school. Unsuccessful at integrating with the other “regular” students, this new girl finds her way into the good graces of a threesome of outcasts (Zoey Luna, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone) who have been practicing witchcraft for some time with meager, underpowered success. The reason they’re not able to harness more power is because they need a fourth member to coordinate with the four elements and cardinal directions, and due to the circumstances of their meetings, this incomplete coven rushes to invite the new girl into their circle. Thing is, they might not be fully prepared to wield the magical prowess that they’ve just discovered.

Lily’s a compelling protagonist as a melancholy and ethereal young girl, and Cailee Spaeny serves as a spitting half-image of her mother -- played by Michelle Monaghan -- looking just enough like her to sell the illusion and differently enough to consider what her absent father might’ve been like. Combined with how she and her mother are moving in with a new father figure (David Duchovny) and his three adolescent sons, it’s all just enough to get The Craft: Legacy to her first day of school and the point where she meets the other witches. Then, the perfectly-timed circumstances emerge in which Lily becomes an instant pariah on her first day of school, and the film starts unraveling very, very quickly, all because the script forces things to happen and refuses to allow them happen organically. Where the coven of witches in the original The Craft develop their bond and work up to bigger powers with time, these girls are making significant magic happen by the second day of meeting one another. Who knew it was that easy to develop telepathy, freeze time, and completely alter another person’s personality?

The big problem with The Craft: Legacy? There’s nothing to the three other witches, at all, prioritizing woke culture representation instead of fleshing them out as individuals caught up in said issues. None of them have layers, only external traits that, frankly, do a horrible job of emphasizing how or why they’re social outcasts. While the original Craft deals in issues of poverty, racism, body deformation, suicide, even rape and abuse, it also uses them as a means of giving the four witches a deeper sense of personality in how they’re impacted by those things and are drawn to their coven. Legacy forces the viewer to glean what characterization they can from the comic-relief sarcastic lingo of one girl and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to another’s transgenderism, and that’s it, with zero interest in exploring and empowering these women by showing legitimate interest in them. Instead, the film’s more interested in having the witches confront and conquer a single issue: toxic masculinity, how it shows up in schools and lords over the home. Yep, it’s all about the boys.

At the point where this new “villain” becomes known -- David Duchovny was so close to making this work -- The Craft: Legacy veers away from being a wishy-washy remake and into brand new story territory, driven by mystical and physical twists alike and the repercussions branching from them. With these wild departures from its source material, the hope is that it’d at least provide additional imagination and excitement with a spellslinging conclusion, yet writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones has conjured something even more unremarkably conventional than the original’s power-play dramatics. One could cast any number of criticisms at how the witches’ powers appear way too competent for their experience level, how anguished conflicts within their coven rings false, or how it plays out like a superhero origin akin to X-Men or Power Rangers, but really, it boils down to none of it feeling earned. The Craft: Legacy desperately wants to be this generation’s witchcraft drama, yet from the borrowed phrases and diminished themes to a shoehorned cameo at the end, it just makes the original look even more magical.

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