Witches in movies tend to move between the playful (Harry Potter) and horrifying (The Witch), but 1996’s The Craft takes a different tact all together. Its tone wavers between those two extremes, but it also finds a home and its own voice as a tale of damaged “goth” outcasts striking back against bullies, racists, and the patriarchy with supercool magic. Being the 90s, it also features a killer soundtrack. Twenty-four years later, we’ve finally gotten a follow-up, but rather than take similar themes and scream even louder about the ongoing battles in 2020, The Craft: Legacy manages only a lackluster whimper.
The two films do share a lot of the same premise, though, starting with a newcomer arriving to town and befriending three amateur spellcasters in desperate need of a fourth to really get their witchy juices flowing. Lily (Cailee Spaeny) comes to town with her single mother (Michelle Monaghan) to move in with mom’s new beau, a motivational speaker named Adam (David Duchovny) whose area of expertise involves men and masculinity. (Uh oh!) He has three sons too, but don’t give them a second thought — the movie sure doesn’t. After embarrassing herself with an epic menstrual flow on the first day of school, Lili finds compassion and friendship from Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Lourdes (Zoey Luna), and Tabby (Lovie Simone). They become inseparable after they discover that together they have the power to create fire, dye fabric with their mind, and — stop time around them.
If that shift from minor trickery to life-changing, physics-defying magic seems a bit jarring, while that’s part of the problem with The Craft: Legacy. These young women can literally stop time to the point that people pause and birds freeze in the air, but it comes without much effort and nothing is ever really done with it. Again and again, writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones jumps to some big beat without putting in the effort required to reach that point. From an out of left field suicide to the arrival of an uber villain, the dramatic beats aren’t earned and as a result arrive powerless.
It’s tempting to blame the film’s limpness on its PG-13 rating — one sequence presumably featuring a used condom or a masturbation aid of some kind misses its punchline as the offending fluid container looks to be hidden behind a digitally added object in the foreground — but that seems unfair. It’s also possible that scenes on the cutting room floor exist that would have connected the various plot points in more effective fashion. The film as it exists, though, just fails to land its punches whether they’re attempts at drama, horror, or anything in between.
That goes for the character beats as well. Lily is the focus here, just as Sarah (Robin Tunney) is in The Craft, but in that earlier film the three other girls also have their own lives and storylines. We understand their individual draw towards magic and see what motivates them through the dangerous ups and downs. The Legacy doesn’t have time for supporting player, though, and the three ultimately have only slightly more depth or detail than Adam’s sons — which as mentioned, is basically none. They’re all flat and empty, and by the time the third act decides to aim for real drama it fails, in part, due to those dimensionless characters. Viewers don’t have enough information or reason to care.
Lister-Jones’ script takes a page from last year’s Black Christmas reboot in its attempt at infusing the story with socially relevant commentary and detail, but while noble in its intent, it too stumbles. Where that earlier film throws in everything *and* a PC kitchen sink, Legacy makes a more minimal effort. One character’s bisexual reveal feels more like an Afterschool Special teaser than a serious or relevant observation, and the film’s bullies — other teens, not the film’s big bad — quickly disappear from the narrative all together as if to suggest they’re actually just misunderstood people themselves.
The Craft: Legacy is a sequel, but even there the connection is late to the party as if they realized only in the final moments that a throughline was needed. The truth, though, is that rather than work to tie the two films together, this new feature would have benefited greatly from the freedom to tell its own original story. What could have been an entertaining and memorable magic trick of rebirthing a cult hit instead feels like a neutered retread. “Was all of this just a game to you?” says one of the young women after they’ve been having fun with magic, and sadly, the answer is yes. That said, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any winners here.