Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: The Craft is not a masterpiece. It has…problems. But it’s also wickedly entertaining due to its camp, its lead performances, its killer soundtrack, and its go-for-broke finale. It’s a quintessential cult classic, a midnight movie renowned for both its silliness and its watchability. Virtually none of that can be applied to its too little, too late sequel/reboot The Craft: Legacy, an afterthought of a film that’s as evanescent as the cheap CGI glitter that accompanies the spellwork of the main characters.
Legacy focuses primarily on Lily (Cailee Spaeny), who’s just moved to a new town with her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan), living in the house of Helen’s boyfriend Adam (David Duchovny). After she gets bullied in school, Lily gets comforted by a trio of teen witches who end up recruiting her into their coven. Finding strength in their friendship and newfound magical powers, the four start turning their lives around but end up abusing their magic and running afoul of hidden, sinister forces.
Although truth be told, there’s very little actual plot to be found here. The film is less like a story and more like a series of vignettes strung together to resemble a narrative. The real antagonist of the film doesn’t even make an appearance until 70-some minutes into a 97-minutes-with-credits film. That being said, there are elements of the film I intend to discuss in order to illustrate why exactly this film doesn’t work, so THERE MAY BE MILD SPOILERS from this point on. Although I’ll do my best to keep it as spoiler-light as possible so as not to risk getting my critical powers bound from doing harm to others.
The first thing I’ll say is that Legacy really doesn’t need to exist and spends a great deal of its second half wildly gesticulating in an attempt to justify itself. There are a few callbacks that amount to fanservice; the “light as a feather” scene has a glorified cameo. It’s main connections to the original seem tacked-on and obvious but also raise a lot of questions and plot holes. Said connection is no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen a sequel before, but it also doesn’t make a bit of sense when taken in the broader context of the film as a sequel. It ends up being less of a “wow” reveal and more of a headscratcher that deflates any impact it may have had.
Writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones also prioritizes theme over story whenever she can, emphasizing the feminist fantasy aspects of the material. That’s not inherently bad, and Manon knows we need things like that, but it’s often too heavy-handed and simplistic to be taken seriously. There’s about as much nuance as a Tumblr post; the final battle is literally against an avatar of toxic masculinity. Granted, some anvils definitely need to be dropped, but it can be exhausting hearing them land. It’s hard to be too critical of Lister-Jones, though, because she clearly feels seriously about what she’s doing and has a fair degree of skill behind the camera.
It would help if we had some characters to root for and get behind, but aside from Lily, none of the coven really gets much background or character development. Aside from Gideon Adlon’s Frankie, who’s personality seems to constantly be switched to “extra”, they don’t seem to have much depth. Lister-Jones should be commended for adding some diversity to the coven, however; Zoey Luna’s Lourdes is both Latinx and transgender (like Luna herself) and aside from one line of dialogue, that isn’t dwelled on. Both Adlon and Luna, as well as third coven member Lovie Simone, do a decent job with what they’re given. It’s just a shame that aren’t given much to work with in the first place. There’s a supporting character who orbits the coven that has more complexity to them than three of the girls on the film’s poster, and that just doesn’t seem right.
Lily herself remains a bit of a cipher despite the film’s best efforts to delve into what makes her tick. Cailee Spaeny is a very sympathetic actress, though, and she has a kind of endearingly raw emotional performance here. She has excellent chemistry with Michelle Monaghan, which definitely makes the film’s ridiculous third act at least a little bit easier to swallow. She doesn’t have as great a chemistry with her coven, though, as Lister-Jones speeds through their bonding process with a montage of magical moments, denying us the opportunity to watch their friendship grow organically.
What really undoes the film is its lack of weight. It all feels so slight and so cheap. The original film wore its melodrama on its sleeve, but Legacy is content to just kind of meander slowly though its emotional moments. It has a relatively easygoing energy until the end of its second act, at which point it makes a sudden and wholly unconvincing dark turn, as if it suddenly remembered it had to have conflict. I remember shouting at the screen about an hour into the thing “Will someone get evil already so something can happen?” It all leads to a remarkably unsatisfying and sudden climax that resembles a dozen Charmed episodes smashed together, complete with all the lackluster CGI, cheap sets, and plot contrivances that implies. My kingdom for a house filled with snakes and scorpions. ANYTHING to make this more exciting.
The film does have a few things going for in its own defense. As I said, Lister-Jones is actually a fairly talented director, even if she could have used a writing partner here. The score by Heather Christian is appropriately enchanting and mysterious, often more so than the story it’s accompanying. And overall, the performances are not bad, occasionally bordering on good, with the exception of David Duchovny’s signature monotone.
The film also clearly did its research on a lot of the magical elements. When the girls cast a spell on a bully to make them see the error of their ways, the ingredients all make sense and correspond properly. The mainstream acceptance and understanding of witchcraft, Wicca, and spellcrafting has increased exponentially in the 20+ years since the original Craft debuted, and the characters and vibe of the film definitely reflect that. Magic is portrayed much more as a neutral tool that can be used or abused based on the character of the wielder and less like a mysterious force that’s inherently dangerous.
And as admirable as that aspect is, it’s also indicative of why this film just doesn’t have the impact of it’s predecessor. It’s safe and it’s quiet, lacking the original’s camp value and sense of spectacle. Not to mention nobody even comes close to matching the captivating outrageousness of Fairuza Balk as Nancy Downs. There were moments when I realized that this film about teenage witches exploring their powers was downright tedious. It trades the original’s witch-pop grunge-glam for a woke, earnest earthiness but loses the magic that made the original memorable in the first place.
FBOTU Score: 4 out of 10 / C-
The Craft: Legacy can be streamed through Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, Fandango Now, the PlayStation Store, and AMC Theatres On Demand.