There’s never been a better time to appreciate Andrew Fleming’s The Craft, not because the movie has come into its own over the last two-and-a-half decades but because you never know what you have until someone makes a mechanical, ill-conceived sequel thoughtlessly dovetailed to the priorities of Millennial and Gen Z culture. Zoe Lister-Jones’ energy directing and writing The Craft: Legacy is best described as, “How do you do, fellow kids?”: Her work doesn’t talk to her audience so much as at them, and occasionally down to them.
The Craft: Legacy panders by fitting its characters into neat inclusive categories and prizing the cast for diversity without ascribing them depth. “Characters” feels generous: The four human teenage witches in this film communicate not through dialogue but a dialect of colloquialisms and name-drops. JK. NBD. Kristen Stewart. Robert Pattinson. AF. At least the writing stops short of making explicit references to Harry Potter and instead contents itself with minor allusions, notably involving a snake met first in the grass and later back in its cozy tank. How did it get from here to there? Magic.
Lily (Cailee Spaeny) is the requisite new kid in town, poor in friends but rich with inborn sorcerous powers she has spotty control over. She and Helen (Michelle Monaghan), her best friend and devoted Cool Mom, move to a new town, then in with Helen’s new guy, Adam (alarm bells ring for David Duchovny), and his three sons-cum-razor clams, Abe (Julian Grey), Jacob (Charles Vandervaart) and Isaiah (Donald Maclean Jr.), all while Lily learns to live with her natural spellcraft. There’s a sweet, dark-at-the-periphery YA film in there, but the moment Lily meets her new BFFs-to-be, practicing witches Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone) and Lourdes (Zoey Luna), the sweetness curdles into grating banter.
Spaeny’s in her own movie here, giving Lily a vibe that flips between perturbed and spritely: Being the new kid means being unmoored, though she tries her hardest to put on a brave face. But where Spaeny’s real and relatable, the rest of the gang feel engineered to appeal to generational priorities. They’re not flesh and blood but cutouts that sell genuine teen experience without inhabiting it. Nothing about their identities can be mistaken as substantive: They’re hollow stereotypes made of tropes and argots by folks with seemingly no familiarity with how members of the incoming generation act and talk and think. Lister-Jones and Blumhouse cash in on youth interests at the expense of speaking to them through narrative.
As in The Craft, The Craft: Legacy wonders what a teen girl squad would do if given access to magic. But the former considers how badly a teen girl squad would misuse magic, whether in pursuit of vengeance or beauty or power itself. The Craft: Legacy imagines its protagonists using magic for small justice—like erasing slut-shaming graffiti—and especially to teach a boy, Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), a sensitivity lesson by … hexing him into a better person. Don’t mess with these ladies—they’ll turn you woke. Maybe this signals Lister-Jones’ hope that Gen Z have evolved beyond a need for petty retributions and would rather wield power to effect benevolent change. Isn’t it better, after all, to show people a better way and teach them goodness than to brutalize them for being bad? Yes, but also sort of, because this is a horror flick where actions end up having no consequences, so the film ends up merely raising the question without addressing it. It’s a nice fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless, and one robbed of conflict until conflict is desperately needed and clumsily jammed into the plot with about a half hour of running time left.
That tin-eared self-congratulating opportunism is reflected in the film’s construction, too: A handful of absolutely baffling needle drops, notably Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen,” a song about adult circumspection used apparently for its retro-made-modern synths and not thematic resonance, bleed into indecisive tone-shifts, resulting in cacophony. One minute, The Craft: Legacy is a high school romance, and the next it’s spooky Ari Aster-light. After that, it’s an uncogent portrait of masculinity in crisis as a foil to the driving motif of womanhood on the ascent. Finally, it’s an entry in horror’s witch subgenre, but with the edges planed down so nobody pricks themselves on the splinters. It’s almost a certainty that a percentage of young women will see themselves in Lily, Frankie, Tabby and Lourdes, and for them The Craft: Legacy will enjoy short-term personal importance. But where The Craft grew up along with its audience, The Craft: Legacy seems likely to remain juvenile forever.
Director: Zoe Lister-Jones
Writer: Zoe Lister-Jones
Starring: Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, Zoey Luna, Michelle Monaghan, Nicholas Galitzine, David Duchovny, Julian Grey, Charles Vandervaart, Donald Maclean Jr.
Release Date: October 28, 2020
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.