To this day, I’m not entirely sure if I played “Light As A Feather” with my friends during sleepovers because we saw a coven do it in 1996’s The Craft, or if we embraced The Craft as one of the defining movies of our teenage years simply because it got those details right. Of course, looking back on the film from a distance of 24 years and while firmly ensconced in adulthood, I realize it doesn’t much matter. The Craft was iconic for so many ’90s girls not because it saw the details of our existence but because it … saw us. The movie presented four flawed, fascinatingly complex girls and charted their friendship as it descended into toxicity. It centered them as the heroes and the villains of their own story. It respected the difficulties of their lives without letting them off the hook for their actions. And ultimately, it told the story of how important it is to believe in yourself, even if it means taking a stand against your friends (who, ya know, may or may not be trying to kill you).
It’s a very real and important lesson, no doubt — but it’s not the only one teenagers need to learn. There’s another side to that coin; a lesson to be had about believing in and standing up with your true friends. A lesson that feels especially timely for teens heading out into a post-MeToo world where our civil liberties are under renewed threat.
Enter The Craft: Legacy, a film I hope will become an equally beloved sleepover staple for a whole new generation.
Not exactly a reboot and not precisely a sequel, Legacy is in constant dialogue with its predecessor even while it stands on its own two feet (if you ignore a third-act twist that explicitly connects it to The Craft and which is both selfishly satisfying and completely unnecessary). Writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones attempts to walk one hell of a tightrope, satisfying fans of the original while creating a stand-alone experience for new viewers — and while the film isn’t entirely successful, its heart is in the right place. I found myself rooting for this kinder, gentler vision of witchcraft and sisterhood despite some glaring plot holes.
The outlines of the story ought to sound familiar: A teenage girl moves to a new town, makes friends with three young witches looking for a fourth to complete their coven, and disaster ensues. The details of their blossoming friendship will also look familiar, from woodland spell-casting circles to, yes, rounds of “Light As A Feather.” Yet Legacy is no carbon copy. Instead, it takes inspiration from the beats of the original story and updates them to a more modern sensibility, for better or for worse. I found myself not minding that Legacy is a far less dark and traditionally scary movie than its predecessor. It jettisons the suicidal imagery and creepy crawlies and replaces them with one stand-out moment of pure nightmare fuel that proves it knows exactly who its core audience is: Menstrual blood dripping on a classroom floor. Our new girl, Lily (Cailee Spaeny, last seen as Lyndon in Devs), is publicly humiliated on her first day of school when the class meathead Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) eagerly draws everyone’s attention to the fact that she’s, uh, started her period all over the place. It’s this inciting incident that draws the sympathy of three other outcasts who know all too well what it feels like to be publicly shamed: aspiring witches Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Frankie (Gideon Adlon), and Tabby (Lovie Simone). They track Lily down in the bathroom, coming to her rescue with a clean pair of shorts to change into, and thus a sisterhood is born.
What sets Legacy apart is that there is no downfall for this group of friends. There’s no jealousy and they don’t covet each other’s gifts. They aren’t bonded because they are weirdos; they’re weirdos who are also genuinely bonded. If they are going to go down, they’ll go down together. It’s a welcome twist that unfortunately also leads to one of the biggest hurdles the film faces: Who’s the villain if it isn’t the coven? The answer, if you’ve seen the trailer, is SO OBVIOUSLY DAVID DUCHOVNY, like WHY ELSE WOULD HE EVEN BE THERE GAWD. That, in and of itself, isn’t the problem. The issue is that the film loses narrative balance as it struggles to introduce an outside threat, which in turn pulls the focus away from the coven, resulting both in Duchovny’s poorly-sketched villainy and — the bigger tragedy — a tangible lack of definition between our teen witches. Before writing this review I had to refer to IMDb not just to confirm the names of the actors who play Lourdes, Frankie, and Tabby but to confirm that those were the character names in the first place. It’s particularly frustrating because Legacy is so determined to be inclusive, and yet it fails to give its characters any distinct qualities ASIDE from their diversity.
The tradeoff of all that character sacrifice is Duchovny’s Adam, an addition to the plot and a viable reason for the sisterhood to stand together in the climax. Adam is Lily’s mom’s new boyfriend, a father of three teenage boys and a self-help guru who travels the country helping men heal from the wounds of political correctness by connecting to their inner alpha male energies or… something. He may as well be called Mr. Patriarchy. At first, it’s enough that Lily is forced to move into a house filled with men who clearly view her as less-than, and that underlying sense of dread and danger is a potent element for most of the film. Unfortunately, it all falls apart in the climax, which reveals the extent of Adam’s villainy and trades all that the mysterious menace for a painfully literal form of evil that boils down to “Men are from Mars/ Women are from Venus.” That the climactic battle still manages to deliver the satisfying triumph of sisterhood we’d hoped for is a testament to how little the villain mattered in the first place.
The movie ends with a heap of unanswered questions, but like I said, I’m rooting for The Craft: Legacy because, despite its flaws, it also has something valuable to say. For every plot misstep, there’s a choice that I applaud. It knows sisterhood is bigger than a single gender — it’s a bond of trust, one the movie stretches to include former bully Timmy (after a spell makes him “woke”). If The Craft was about finding the individual strength to stand against your tribe, then Legacy is about standing with your tribe against the systemic injustices that threaten you all. It’s about the importance of allies and being believed, and strength in numbers. There’s plenty of room in the world for both lessons, and both movies — and even if Blumhouse seems to lack faith in the potential of female-made horror, that doesn’t mean viewers have to.
The movie is available to rent or buy On Demand now. Give it a chance. Kinder and gentler isn’t a bad thing, especially in 2020.