01 November 2020

The Craft: Legacy

The TLDR: It is a charming trifle made for teenagers, with a bit of interesting cultural politics. If you love the exuberantly hokey original, you will like this revisitation.

The film is not the cunning indie masterpiece one might hope for. The plot does not really make sense; one gets the sense that it suffered some trimming in service of a brisk runtime. The characterizations are thin. The magic doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Someone on the production has clearly had a look at proper modern witches because there is some real-deal witchcraft flavor thrown into the cauldron; tastes will vary among Pagan friends whether you find it charming or frustrating to see this sprinkled over the very imaginary version of witchcraft portrayed in the movie. The scares are not very scary. The transgressions are not very transgressive.

And none of that matters. It is not that kind of movie.

The young actors playing our little coven do not quite have the latent star power of the crew from the original — how could they? — but they deliver the goods. All four are charming and magnetic and completely sell how delighted they are to be friends doing magic. Cailee Spaeny as Lily, our central character, does some real acting, which pays off in how the movie plays her close relationship with her mother; I look forward to seeing her in more roles. And it was wise of the production to spend a few extra bucks to get David Duchovny to show up and have fun as the new stepdad our heroine is wary of.

There was some nice stuff for me as a production design nerd. The Spooky Book Of The Craft (inherited from the original film?) has a spot-on Early 1970s Small Press look. The girls’ wardrobes feel real; there’s a nice moment in which a hidden witchcraft theme in the costuming is demonstrated to have been hiding in plain sight. The Somewhat Spooky big old house Lily and her mom move into both has the right atmosphere and feels like a real place. And the coven’s makeup case full of magic supplies was my favorite character of the movie.

The movie’s cultural politics are deliberately and very explicitly woke in a breezy way that gives me hope for the Youngs. Attention to cultural politics stuff that was a fight for geezers like me not so long ago is just assumed to be part of the world of these characters. Toxic masculinity is a key theme that surfaces in a few ways without devolving into Boys Are Bad. There is a Representation Matters moment which is deliberately and refreshingly fleeting; the movie registers something important, registers that it is important, then swiftly moves on because our characters are not wrought about it. Magic is used as a device for talking about consent practices, even. The movie is not perfectly thoughtful on this stuff — I had reservations, and I presume that people with more skin in the game than I have will have more — but it bothered to be good enough to be worth criticizing.

And it is just fun. The girls are bursting with life, full of big feelings and adolescently irresponsible with their magic powers. It gets a lot of mileage out of some cheap, simple special effects. They get a bushel of Hero Walks and Hero Moments. The callbacks to the original film are cheap shots that work.

And thanks to either re-shoots or cunning, the trailer is full of misdirection, so there are a couple of nice surprises.

If you are reading this, you are almost certainly too old to be the target audience. It is a movie made for teenagers. But that is a nice place to visit.

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