Directed By Zoe Lister-Jones
Starring – Cailee Spaeny, Michelle Monaghan, David Duchovny
The Plot – An eclectic foursome of aspiring teenage witches get more than they bargained for as they lean into their newfound powers.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, crude and sexual content, adult language and brief drug material
– Surprisingly original. Unlike most contemporary remakes, “The Craft: Legacy” is anything but another shamelessly derivative cash grab that adds nothing of substance or diversity to the movie’s phoned-in screenplay. Instead, the only familiarity that we are given is in the movie’s structure, which includes and is limited to a new girl moving to town who meets and befriends three women with similarly unique gifts. That’s it. The rest of the movie, for better or worse, explores this formula through new eyes, and they’re the kind that honestly brought forth a series of twists with character backgrounds that I wasn’t expecting. On top of this, the socially conscience layer of teenage vulnerability, complete with examples of homosexuality, bodily awkwardness, and isolation in loneliness complete a trio of trepidation that feels satisfyingly updated for today’s brand of adolescence, and gives the movie plenty to explore on its way to an abundance of material that, like its original, is socially relevant for the time.
– Reserved gifts. In watching “The Craft” again, the obviously glaring weakness is in the special effects work, which often lack a lot of heft and believability to their designs. For “Legacy”, it’s the subdued nature by a limited budget that constantly kept the gifts elevating, but beyond that left them pleasantly grounded for the world the movie was trying to convey. Being that these are teenagers who are not fully aware of their powers yet, this makes sense, but more so it’s in the lighting choices with such that better help shadow the hollow impracticality of what inevitably could follow from Blumhouse’s typical wheelhouse. Most of the tricks are done VIA possession, so they’re in the hands of the youthful cast to make believable, but those that are more powerfully resonant are illustrated with a nighttime backdrop to better help hide the strings of obviousness, particularly in the coloring, that would otherwise be evident with more light of realization. It keeps this from being an overblown special effects juggernaut, allowing it to remain true to the voice of a predecessor that sold the subtlety of these spectacular beings living among mortals.
– That ending shot. Very few scenes have left the kind of impact on me that the movie’s closing shot in this one did, and even in a scene with so very little said, there’s an overwhelmingly exhilarating feeling granted in dynamic that links the two films together cohesively. Without spoiling anything, I will say that reveal doesn’t feel desperate in the vein of fan service, nor does it take away from the power of the movie’s central protagonist. If anything, it endorses more depth to her characterization in a twenty second scene than an entire screenplay that often forgot such pivotal audience indulgences. It saves its biggest gut-punch for the moment it knows that its audience is seconds away from confirming their pre-conceived notions about the movie’s necessity, and climaxes with the single biggest and most important scene of the movie when it truly matters most.
– Thin characterization. This is easily the biggest weakness of the film for me, and one that kept me from investing or remotely understanding any of the characters besides Spaeny’s protagonist. Not only are the other girls in this coven directed entirely wrong in the personalities they convey for such a group, but they are given absolutely zero background or screen attention to render them equally as important as the new girl in town. This made it incredibly difficult to invest in any of their dynamics, especially considering there’s nothing about them that makes them feel like the outcasts of the school in the eyes of the adversaries who they move carelessly in and around without much consequence. Even the obvious villain characters are depicted with as much subtlety as a gay pride parade through the streets of Mobile, Alabama, complete with illogical actions and the kind of unkind personalities that could allow them to play bullies in a Stephen King movie. It rounds out a collection of characters whom I even struggle to remember their names even minutes after seeing the film, and only values one film where the original film thrived as a group effort.
– Cringing dialogue. Jones also wrote the movie’s screenplay, a fact that may allude to her wearing herself thin, as the lines delivered between characters are laughably bad at best, and artificially shallow at worse. I say the latter because this is once again an example of an adult screenwriter trying to write what they feel is the hip lingo of the day between kids, complete with clever abbreviations and snappy retorts so underwhelmingly hollow that they age the teenage characters about ten years because of such convolution. It wouldn’t be so bad if the scenes they are encased in didn’t halt the momentum being built previously to it, but every time one of these audible train tracks are delivered, like first PERIOD jokes during a girl’s most personal time in front of the whole school, it draws more attention to it because the integrity of the scene is shaped around the dialogue, and feels like it was practically lifted from a Claire’s storefront in the heat of a conflict about the newest Twenty-One Pilots CD.
– Tonally rotten. If you get one thing right about a Craft movie, please let it be the darkly ominous tone that envelopes the characters’ undesirable situations, as well as the movie’s horror/science fiction genre hybrid. Unfortunately, the film can’t even get that right, as this is a Freeform teenage romper of the worse kind, and one that is completely void of the kind of shaping needed to sell the desperation in its plight. In fact, if this movie wasn’t titled the way it is, I would have difficulty even believing that this is a film in the same canon as the original, especially considering it was rated R, as to where this movie is given a fluffy PG-13. It’s not all in the limitations of the material either, as the movie’s poppy flash soundtrack resonant of today’s teenage tastes is like birth control for gothic atmosphere, and grants the movie an inescapably peppy enveloping that it can never truly escape from.
– Heavy handed. Like modern social awareness movies of the time, like “Black Christmas”, this movie too instills a momentum for an antagonist character, which is every bit spontaneously unsatisfying as it is frustrating for the arc’s of the other characters involved. It begins with a revelation about our protagonist, which is fine enough, but then made convenient for how the third act bends for its telegraphed cause. In truth, I’m all for a movie with a cause, especially one fighting back decades of oppression towards the female race, but in doing so here, it’s so heavy handed and blunt that it practically wipes away everything that was previously built about the characters and their respective subplots for the sake of this obviously on-the-nose commentary, and takes the movie’s conflict and ensuing second half in ridiculous directions that makes the finished product unsalvageable.
– Gifted exposition. In short, there isn’t any. These girls never have a moment of experimentation leading to the peak of their amazing talents, just one day they come together and wreak havoc with the oppressors they are fighting back against without even a moment of difficulty. That brings me to the second problem, as the reasons given for such backlash here don’t amount to anything that warrants justification for what they do. In the first film, you had a girl with a sexually abusive stepfather, a scarred “Ugly duckling” who was judged on her misery, a girl dealing with the racism of upper class white America, and a rape victim. The biggest obstacle here is a school bully who mocks Spaeny’s character for getting her period in front of the class. I suppose adversity comes in many levels and forms, but the juice from the retort isn’t worth the momentary suffering from the squeeze, and brings these developments along too quickly to progress naturally.
– Technical blunders. Much of the crafting (See what I did there?) of the film felt very underdeveloped and problematic to me, especially that of the pacing and the editing, the latter of which feeling very uneven. Some scenes just end abruptly, leading to clunky transitions between scenes that often hindered the momentum entirely. Other cuts experiment with the movie’s presentation, but aren’t used enough to ever make a lasting impact of originality to its visualization. One such scene focuses on Spaeny’s character coming out of a house, and then cuts to three different angles of her face for no reason what so ever. If this gimmick was used during moments of transition, I could see it working for the hip atmosphere that it unfortunately garners, but using it in the same scene only disjoints the presentation, leading to questionable moments of artistic expression.
– Wasted cast. I feel like a majority of the talent assembled here have a wide range of talent, I just feel like none of them are playing roles that their registries can accommodate. That starts with Duchovny, who while he may be playing his most emotionally versatile role in over a decade, often times feels like he’s strained or forcing the most out of his sinister deliveries. This is exactly the opposite for Spaeny, whose character I was invested in thoroughly enough for the script’s faithfulness to her character, Unfortunately, Spaeny’s portrayal is a bit too one-note emotionally for my taste, and left many of the movie’s hefty emotional scenes falling flat. Beyond these two, no one even registers enough attention to warrant mentioning, nor do they hold a candle to the collective cast of the 96′ original. They’re every bit forgettable as the movie they accommodate, and focus solely on a few sporadic characters when this should’ve been an ensemble piece.
My Grade: 3/10 or F+