Written/directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, The Craft: Legacy is a homage to the makeover movies and horror films of the mid-1990s, following Lily (Cailee Spaeny) and her mother (Michelle Monaghan) who move in with the latter’s new boyfriend and many sons...
...When Lily starts her period at school, she finds new friends, new enemies, and new powers.
When I rewatched The Craft (1996), directed by Andrew Fleming, starring Fairuza Balk and Robin Tunney, I was so knocked on my ass by the overt patriarchy, and I could not believe my contemporary, adolescent, slumber-party self once thought of that movie as an edgy, teen movie about girl power. Your girl is not usually down for a reboot, not when there are so many scripts out there that haven’t been given their fair shake, but one type of reboot that does earn my approval is when a new (woman, this time!) writer and director (Zoe Lister-Jones) fully shakes down the original premise and incorporates nearly all of my notes. The adolescent in me was very pleased, and the adult I actually am thinks this film is a nice, politically correct drama that should do well among 14-year-old girls, which is perfect, because that’s a great goal.
I think the most systematic way of approaching this critique is likely to just acknowledge the problems with the original film and illustrate how the new iteration builds its narrative around correcting those exact flaws:
Legacy is actually feminist. 1996 is misogynist. The power that the girls conjure in The Craft is what develops the premise into a horror movie. Nancy (Fairuza Balk) ends up committed—as women accused of witchcraft often are—to an asylum because she can’t wield her own power; Sarah (Robin Tunney), the new girl with zero practice, is the one who gracefully accepts her burden and binds the other girls who use their powers frivolously. Plus, they all start fighting over boys almost immediately. Basically, the 1996 is not about women’s empowerment at all. It is at its core misogynist.
In Legacy, Lily starts her period on her first day at a new school. A bully makes fun of her. Three girls follow her to the bathroom and give her new clothes, and Frankie (Gideon Aldon) says, “You have a heavy flow, and that is something to be celebrated.” It’s the exact opposite of the cold open to Carrie, though it seems that both girls get their powers when they begin to menstruate, and I loved to see that inversion. There are many more times when the girls support each other and evaluate themselves, and all of the performances—then and throughout—of the teenage cast are so believable. Not only is every line rendered so endearingly, but they are also a little insufferable in the intentional, believable way that teenage girls nearly always speak.
Legacy is actually sex-positive. 1996 is slut-shaming. Sexuality is represented as very conquest-y and unhealthy in 1999’s The Craft. Nancy has sex with Chris, but something (we’re not told exactly what) goes awry. It’s implied that he has raped her, so the girls put a love spell on him, in return, so that he now has no consent. They never acknowledge that although, yes, Chris does assault Sarah, they have also stripped him of his free will, so neither of them is able to fully consent.
In Legacy, not only is it so sex-positive that we see the students in a sex-ed classroom, watching a video about consent, but when they curse the bully (don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, it happens in the first 15 minutes), they curse him to essentially be more woke. I actually loved that this was a curse, because it really only lifts the toxic masculinity with which he’d been indoctrinated, which basically means he is more free to do what he wills than before they curse him. There are other examples of sex-positivity throughout the film, but I’ll let you experience those firsthand.
Legacy acknowledges that there are actually three witches needed. In The Craft, none of the girls’ spells works until Sarah arrives. They need a fourth (for the fourth element) so that they can do magic. My question was, where in the literal world do you see four witches needed? It’s three. It’s always been three. Since the beginning of time. Check out this article if you don’t believe me.
While there are still four witches in Legacy, before Lily arrives, the other girls were already able to do a few spells. When she arrives, though, their powers level-up. They even have one chant that mentions the Mother, Matron, and Crone of Macbeth’s Weird Sisters, which was just a very satisfying nod, for me, as a stickler who can’t let things go. Similarly, during a friendship montage, we get to see them play (and succeed at) “Light as a feather, stiff as a board.” They also play all of the non-magical party games that cultivate false intimacies and the sharing of secrets with people unable to emotionally bear their weight… you know those games. Two Truths and a Lie. Spin the Bottle. Et cetera. They bring a whiff of memories that most of us remember too well to miss.
Legacy represents. Speaking of four witches… in The Craft, there is one Token Black character, and while I love Rachel True, she does deliver a great performance, and I identified with her character the most in that film, why is she the only character of color in the entire film? Aren’t they supposed to be in L.A.?
Legacy represents multiple ethnicities, orientations, and genders, and it does it well. The characters’ minority statuses are not their only character traits, and that’s so uncommon that it merits noting. Also, this point seems especially important in a semi coming-of-age film. It’s really important to see yourself represented onscreen when you are becoming an adult, and this film truly delivers on that order.
Legacy teaches that actually, you are responsible for your actions. The girls of the 1996 Craft film do not accept any responsibility for the reactions that their spells put in place over others—the boy bully, in particular, as I mentioned before. They also don’t acknowledge the hair loss of the racist bully. It’s up to Sarah, the one witch with a moral compass, to bind the rest of them. Never mind that she was also part of those spells. I guess we’re supposed to think that because she turned on her friends, she’s absolved?
Legacy does not go down that way. All four witches are self-aware, and they talk about their problems. That might not be the most realistic thing to expect from teenagers, but at least they are modeling the ideal behavior—plus, this movie is supposed to be idealistic: It’s about magic, y’all.
There are a couple consistencies in the films, as well:
The parenting styles seem exactly wrong in both films. We all know that Nancy’s situation was beyond horrible, and I’m sorry, but moving your adolescent daughter into your boyfriend’s house that’s full of teenage boys? That seems like a recipe for disaster no matter how you spin it. And allowing her not-stepfather to discipline her? Absolutely not. Go stand in the corner, mom.
But you know what both films do right? Fashion. And music. Every time the girls were onscreen, I fought the urge to look up and add their clothes to my cart, because even though Frankie says in the beginning that no one wants to sit with them at lunch, I would. They are the cool girls. Look at that eyeliner! That coat! And y’all in here listening to Princess Nokia, casting spells with your cousins? The aesthetic of the film—and this includes the amazing camerawork when they first call the four corners—really rises to the standard that The Craft set.
Here’s the takeaway: if you were frustrated when you revisited the 1996 film, you’ll probably appreciate Legacy on that front, but it also stands alone as a truly well-executed coming-of-age story.
The Craft: Legacy becomes available on PVOD from Columbia Pictures and Blumhouse on October 28th.
By Mary Kay McBrayer
Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of the nonfiction novel America's First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can hear her analysis (and jokes) about scary movies on the podcast she co-founded, Everything Trying to Kill You. (One of their very first episodes was actually about 'The Craft' (1996)).