You didn’t need to be a teenage witch — practicing or just aspiring — to vibe with Andrew Fleming’s 1996 cult classic “The Craft.” Underneath all the glamour (literally) is a film about alienation, bullying, and value in fighting back against people who want to keep you down. In short: perfect for teens, even better for teen girls. Nearly a quarter-century after Fleming’s film was released (and became a sleeper hit in the process), its magic has finally inspired a clever sequel that understands the film’s legacy and is all too happy to thrust into a brave new world.
Zoe Lister-Jones’ “The Craft: Legacy” wears its affection and appreciation for the first film on its bedazzled sleeves, while making the case for the newly minted series to continue in a very different era than the one in which it was conceived. Lister-Jones’ callbacks to Fleming’s original come in a variety of forms, from winking nods to iconic lines and scenes (fans of that “We are the weirdos, mister” moment and the best game of “Light as a Feather, Stiff as Board” ever played will not be disappointed) to a firm handle on the original’s more complex emotions and interpersonal relationships. While a messy third act hampers its power, it arrives at a final twist to bring things full circle, setting the course for what could very well be a brand new chapter in a franchise overdue for new life.
“The Craft: Legacy” opens with a conceit familiar to fans of “The Craft” and the classic high school sagas that inspired it: the arrival of a strange new girl. This time around, it’s the shy Lily (Cailee Spaeny), a recent transplant to an anonymous tony suburb who’s only dimly aware that the things that make her different are not exactly relatable to the general populace. Her doting mom Helen (Michelle Monaghan) is all encouragements, a loving-enough presence to make the cross-country move into the male-dominated household of Helen’s newish boyfriend (David Duchovny) and his three teenage sons feel manageable.
For all her respect for the first film, Lister-Jones isn’t just aping the original, and the filmmaker hasn’t cast a new round of young witches to fill out the prescribed archetypes: Lily isn’t just a stand-in for Robin Tunney’s original character, another new girl who had her own cross to bare, and neither are the three budding witches she soon meets at her socially stratified high school. After a horrible act of bullying marks Lily as a definite outsider, Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone), and Lourdes (Zoey Luna) come to her rescue, at which point they’re greeted not only with a new friend, but one that has the exact sort of powers they need to complete their growing coven.
Courtesy of Sony Pictures
While the inner lives of Frankie, Tabby, and Lourdes aren’t as fleshed out as their counterparts in Fleming’s original — characters who had many deep secrets and troubles that drove their pursuit of magic — they still make for a compelling group, with a credible bond at their core. Taking in Lily is an easy ask, and the fun that comes from a completed coven is both idiosyncratic and substantial. Amusing details ground the storyline even as it get increasingly out there, from the girls’ spell-making accoutrements (a Caboodle filled with sage, a wonderful detail in a film filled with them) to the choices they make when it comes to casting their whims.
No matter how powerful they grow, “The Craft: Legacy” never forgets that it’s about teenage girls and their emotional upheavals, with enough space for both the trauma and pleasure that comes with that. The energy the foursome cooks up together, magic or not, is endearing and playful, with Spaeny in particular turning the once-shy Lily into a multi-faceted heroine worth believing in. Even without their magical skills, the coven makes for a charming clique.
A winking sense of humor runs through all the girls’ biggest magical successes — the twist that “Legacy” puts on the classic storyline of “boy who is mean to a powerful teen witch, and oh wow, does he regret that choice” that belonged to Skeet Ulrich in the first film is both very timely and incredibly amusing. Lister-Jones appears to be in full control of a tone that tips between “woke” and “wily” with ease. Eventually, “The Craft: Legacy” expands its aim beyond the internal machinations of a coven trying its very best in strange times, and hits upon an external villain ripped from the front page of the internet.
Like its predecessor, “The Craft: Legacy” works best for those willing to go along with its particular vibe, and while it seems likely to garner blowback from viewers who resist the idea that horror films (and witchcraft-centric ones in particular) have always been interested in issues relating to misogyny, Lister-Jones and her teen witches gamely tackle and skewer such concepts. The result is an entertaining and insightful mashup of tropes, both respectful of what came before and willing to try new tricks. Being a weirdo, it seems, has never gone out of fashion, but now it has a different kind of future to conjure up.
A Sony Pictures and Blumhouse Productions release, “The Craft: Legacy” will be available on digital platforms and premium VOD on Wednesday, October 28.