‘The Craft: Legacy’ movie review: a feminist, woke re-imagining of the 90s cult horror film

  • Zoe Lister-Jones’ reboot of the 1996 release is a story about resistance and sisterhood – it’s very 2020
  • Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, and Zoey Luna star as four teen witches trying to use their power for good
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Four witches (played by, from left: Zoey Luna, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, and Cailee Spaeny) come together in this tale of female empowerment. Photo: Columbia Pictures

Two dozen Halloweens ago, teens headed to the cinema to watch a film that looked like a total treat – but ended up being a trick.

The Craft was about four teenage witches who eventually turned their powers against each other and lost everything, leaving the film with a conventional, conservative message: “Don’t unleash your power”. It was deflating.

Now comes – well, its not entirely clear. A reboot? A sequel? A continuation and a re-imagining? It doesn’t matter at all. The Craft: Legacy is a vastly better, smartly crafted version that’s woke, feminist and very 2020. It’s the story’s best self.

Director and writer Zoe Lister-Jones (New Girl) leaves little nods to the original 1996 film – snakes, butterflies, chants and a pagan deity called Manon – but has gut-renovated the property and restored the female empowerment theme the first one virtually cried out for.

It is a film about resistance and sisterhood. One recurring slogan is “Your difference is your power”. Another is “You shouldn’t run from your power.” It arrives at a time when the concept of witches is being reclaimed, just as this story has been.

The first film starred Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk and Rachel True. The new one stars Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, and Zoey Luna, widening the circle to include a trans voice.

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Appropriately, the soundtrack kicks off with an Alanis Morissette tune, leading a female-centric sonic landscape that includes Lonette, Princess Nokia, Sharon Van Etten, Nadia Rose and Betta Lemme.

Spaeny plays Lily, a new girl in a new town, echoing the role Tunney played in The Craft. She connects with a coven of three fledgling witches who are looking for a fourth to complete their circle.

The foursome contend with bullies but grow in confidence as they begin to assert their powers. With a flick of a hand, they can add face gems or set fires or injure a tormenter. When they levitate a member, they repeat the incantation from the first film: “Light as a feather, stiff as a board.”

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Lister-Jones’ script is very naturalistic and current – “all the feels”, “VBD” and “That’s fire”. There are Twilight references and a cauldron made out of a bong. In one spell, the witches make a sexist bully suddenly very politically correct and vulnerable, apologising for his power to shame. “I’m sorry,” he says.

Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible) plays Lily’s single mum, and David Duchovny (The X-Files), as a potential stepdad, masterfully fills his scenes with a troubling macho spirit. (He plays a motivational speaker who believes power equals order and is author of The Hallowed Masculine.)

The four witches do squabble over how far to push their magic – “If we’re not going to use our power responsibly, then we shouldn’t be using it at all,” one says – but unity is the solution.

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As it races to its cool supernatural climax – and then a coda that connects it to the first film – The Craft: Legacy is firing on all cylinders, looking back respectfully, but also showing how the same story in different hands can soar.

We beg Lister-Jones to do it again, and reclaim and retell more schlocky fare from the ’80s or ’90s. What about an updated Weird Science or Risky Business? One thing is clear: she’s fire.

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