If you happened to be a 13-year-old girl in 1996, The Craft was a huge deal. Whether the film’s all-male creative team realized it or not, the film provided a power fantasy for young women whose adolescent insecurity—alongside societal pressures—made them afraid to assert themselves too loudly. The Craft also gave shy loners hiding out in the occult section at the library hope that not only did their interests make them special, but they would also help them make friends as they got older. And while that film’s circle of four was certainly influenced by stereotypes about the competitive nature of female friendship, there was no denying that Bonnie, Sarah, Rochelle, and Nancy were cool girls that you did not want to mess with.
Fast-forward 24 years, and witchcraft as a tool for self-actualization has become a ubiquitous theme in everything from arthouse horror movies to mass-marketed “self-care” kits. This comes alongside a wave of empowering messaging aimed at girls generally, who are told, in a way that previous generations were not, that their voice is important and their potential unlimited. So perhaps it’s to be expected that The Craft: Legacy, a movie that ultimately proves to be very much a sequel and not a remake, treats the empowerment angle as a given. These are confident, independent young women even before they harness the mysteries of the occult, which makes for a gentler, more carefree take on the material. The witches are a lot less angsty than their predecessors, too—and the lack of black lipstick and studded chokers in their wardrobes reflects that.
No, these Craft girls are not goth. If anything, they’re #witchesofinstagram, into Wiccan nature worship and magical baths and “Are you an empath?” online quizzes. They’re also realistic, bubbly, mischievous teenagers, whose innocence makes them read several years younger than the characters in the original film. (Interestingly, the actors who play them are not much younger; although Rachel True was 29 when she filmed The Craft, most of that cast was in their early 20s, as is most of the cast here.) As the story begins, Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Frankie (Gideon Adlon), and Tabby (Lovie Simone) are an adorably earnest trio in search of a fourth—one for each of the elements and cardinal directions—to complete their circle. They find her in Lily (Cailee Spaeny), the new girl in town whose Carrie-like telekinetic abilities instantly endear her to the clique.
Speaking of Carrie, this film also contains a scene straight out of Seventeen magazine’s “Traumarama” column, where Lily is teased by some popular boys for bleeding through her jeans in class. As revenge for this humiliation, the newly formed coven sneaks into the bedroom of one of those boys, Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), and casts a spell for him to see the error of his boorish ways. The spell works, and Timmy becomes, well, woke, chiding his jock friends for objectifying their female classmates and delivering a monologue on Princess Nokia to the dumbstruck coven at a party. This newfound sensitivity makes Timmy irresistible to Lily, but her psychic pickup lines unwittingly set the stage for a larger magical conflict.
Although Waking The Witch author Pam Grossman served as a consultant on The Craft: Legacy, this film is even less of a how-to manual than its predecessor. Writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones places less emphasis on the culture surrounding witchcraft—there’s no occult store to shoplift from in this film, for example—and more on the girls’ innate supernatural powers, manifested mostly as sparkly wisps of CGI and stunt people in harnesses being jerked across the frame. This is of a piece with more contemporary teen-witch entertainment like the rebooted Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, as well as the film’s message about finding and harnessing one’s own innate magic. But although these witches don’t worship Manon—a made-up deity, anyway—they are really into candles, as all witchy teenagers must be.
This all occurs against the backdrop of Lily’s new, Brady Bunch-esque circumstances, as she and her mother (Michelle Monaghan) move in with Mom’s new boyfriend (David Duchovny) and his three teenage sons. Duchovny’s character turns out to be a Jordan Peterson-esque author who holds workshops on reclaiming masculinity—a detail that, along with a secret Timmy shares with the girls midway through, makes this a Craft movie with a lot to say about men and boys. But while “teen witches vs. toxic masculinity” is an appealing elevator pitch, the theme isn’t as filled out here as it could be. Neither are the day-to-day struggles of the coven’s transgender and Black members, whose identities are affirmed with the depth of a well-meaning but brief social media post.
Instead of going into the personal lives of each of the coven’s members, The Craft: Legacy keeps its narrative focus fixed on Lily, for reasons that become clear later on. These developments reveal a subtle, clever point-of-view shift, one that casts the original movie’s characters in a different, more sympathetic light. But the drama of these revelations also produces a fair bit of whiplash, sitting awkwardly next to the charmingly low stakes of the first half. As the ties between the movies become more obvious, Lister-Jones does drop in some fan service, most prominently the immortal line, “We are the weirdos, mister.” One might think of it as a wink toward the goth moms watching the film with their own Billie Eilish-loving teenagers, except those teens have probably also seen The Craft. If teen witches in 2020 are better adjusted than their foremothers, they’re more internet-savvy, too.