"Your difference is your power," Lily's (Cailee Spaeny) mother tells her in the recently released The Craft: Legacy. This snappy phrase acts as a mantra in a bid to reassure and empower the teenager in a world in which she has trouble fitting in. Scattered across pop culture are stories of adolescent girls who find meaning in magical abilities that lay hidden until they become friends with people who are like them. In some cases, the ability to perform actual spells isn't even required to draw strength from Mother Nature — or Mother Witch as she is called in PEN15 — rather, it is the semblance of control and community that is the greatest gift.
Emphasizing a safe haven for those who have historically been viewed as unruly or too much is no small feat when women branded as witches had previously been cast out or killed. TV and film have long placed witchy figures as benevolent rather than villainous, and while the latter still exists, those who cast spells are more likely to fall in the former category. It doesn't have to be a straightforward good versus evil as there is the potential for anyone to abuse these gifts. Power can corrupt in any arena, which is also a common teenage witch theme from Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Willow to the original Craft's Nancy. Instead of a play-by-play redo of the witchy high school antics, The Craft: Legacy's writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones updates the story to reflect the world of 2020.
Spoilers ahead for The Craft: Legacy.
The Craft arrived on the scene in the same year Bill Clinton was reelected, the Spice Girls released "Wannabe," and aliens threatened the survival of the human race in the year's highest-grossing movie, Independence Day. Meanwhile, Legacy's debut is also during an election year but in a landscape that is more fraught. Not only is the country divided, but a domestic theatrical release was switched to VOD because of the global pandemic. Suffice to say, a lot has happened in the last 24 years — some for the better, some for the worst.
Much like most teenager experiences, sleepovers are often equal parts joy-filled and anxiety-inducing. Casting spells, trying to contact the dead, and scaring each other with games of Bloody Mary are adrenaline-boosting supernatural leaning activities that are often on the agenda. Scary movies — often rented by older siblings or lenient parents — are also a cornerstone of this sugar-filled and sleep-deprived night. But unlike the horrors we typically watched behind pillows, The Craft offered up a striking image of adolescent rage, friendship, and potential. To see four outcast teenage girls emboldened by magic was incredibly alluring, not to mention they looked cool af in PVC jackets, altered plaid skirts, and chokers — something the new movie shares. But one downside to Andrew Fleming's movie is how quickly the bond is poisoned by power.
Obstacles and conflict are vital storytelling tools that are necessary ingredients in the 'power as a corrupting force' narrative. Vengeance is inflicted on several wrongdoing parties and racist bullies, but ultimately, Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle go too far in this quest to settle scores. Unlike Buffy and Willow who remain BFFs, the friendship of the four Craft teens is irrevocably shattered — it is hard to get over someone trying to kill you using their knowledge of a previous suicide attempt. By the conclusion, Nancy is strapped to a hospital bed claiming she can fly and Manon has stripped Bonnie and Rochelle of their powers. Unlike her former pals, Sarah is still in possession of her abilities because she didn't go too far.
High school friend groups are not set in stone and dynamics can be perilous to navigate — with or without magic. This movie resonated not just because of the bonds formed but the ones broken. The group at the heart of Legacy also experiences discord as a result of broken trust, however, the major final act shift sees them coming together in order to rid their world of the real villain: the patriarchy. Lily's mom's boyfriend Adam (David Duchovny), a men's rights activist and successful author — the book is called "The Hallowed Masculine" — who believes that power equates to order and men are the rightful rulers. Lily and her friends are breaking with convention and in doing so they need to be stopped. Uttering the first mention of Manon, Adam wants to take Lily's gifts to restore balance. "That's the thing about girls with power, they are always too weak not to use it against each other," he smugly intones. What Adam doesn't count on is the unbreakable bond of friendship.
Similar to Lister-Jones, I was the target demo for the original Craft when it was released — the Legacy director is just four days older than me. Even 24 years later it still has bite, but the conclusion is the weakest aspect. Yes, Bonnie and Rochelle are still besties but the four corners are effectively scattered. The Legacy coven is stronger than this age-old trope and while Adam's villain status is telegraphed early on, the conclusion benefits from this still intact friendship — and not just because it sets up a potential sequel. Strength in unity might sound like a political slogan but the earnestness that runs throughout the film is something I found appealing watching it last month as the world teeters on the abyss.
Rather than casting a problematic love spell on the class chauvinist, Lily, Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Tabby (Lovie Simone), and Frankie (Gideon Adlon), opt to make him a less garbage person through magic aka they "awaken Timmy to his highest self." The Gen-Z spin on this plot point has its roots in the Gen-X writing of Skeet Ulrich's Chris from the original, which feels like a fresh take on the jock archetype from older millennial Lister-Jones. Romantic intentions cause a rift later in the movie when Lily goes against a shared pact about what to do with Timmy, but this new woke direction leads to a powerful coming out scene. It is far less common to see representations of male bisexuality on-screen and Timmy's declaration that he likes both women and men is revelatory.
It is also notable that Lily's very public heavy flow is one of several recent depictions of menstruation that doesn't shy away from the messiness of this monthly event for some women. It is also significant that when the subject of wombs and childbirth comes up, it doesn't diminish or reduce Lourdes to "less than." Played by trans rights activist Zoey Luna, Lourdes comfortably tells the group, "Y'all know trans girls have our own kind of magic anyway."
During the same game of Two Truths and a Lie that ends with Timmy bearing his soul, Tabby wishes she had more Black friends. It is unfortunate that Timmy's backstory is more fleshed out than some of the other core cast members because Lourdes, Tabby, and Frankie have a lot more to share. Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson observed, "It probably should have been a Netflix series" and I am inclined to agree. Thankfully, this circle has not been broken so further adventures are a possibility. Despite some narrative shortcomings, Lister-Jones casts a powerful message in this depiction of teenage girls coming together to stop a malevolent force.
After they have first discovered shared telepathic abilities, Tabby explains why the witch community is a supportive force, "That's why covens have always been so important. Because half the battle of having powers is believing you do." Casting this spell of confidence through community and self-belief is the exact energy to exert for the rest of the year and into 2021.