2 out of 5 stars

The Craft (1996) made stars of Robin Tunney and Neve Campbell (in a breakthrough year for her alongside Scream) and became a cult favourite, so Blumhouse Productions has produced a belated sequel for a new generation of teenagers to obsess over. Actress Zoe Lister-Jones (Whitney, New Girl) makes her movie directorial debut, working from a script she also wrote, so I don’t doubt she’s a massive fan of the original and wanted to make something to honour its, well, legacy.

The core idea stays much the same, with a troubled young girl moving to a new school and getting bullied (in scenes reminiscent of 1976’s Carrie), then finding unexpected support and friendship with a trio of high school witches. The lonesome teen this time is Lily (Cailee Spaeny), who’s moved to Los Angeles with her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan), to both live with her boyfriend Adam (David Duchovny) and his three teenage sons. The young occultists are Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone), and Lourdes (Zoey Luna), an interchangeable bunch who are overjoyed to find their fourth member to complete their coven.

Zoe Lister-Jones definitely has a few neat ideas that brings The Craft into the 21st-century, mixing in topical issues like toxic masculinity and ‘woke culture’. The setup with Lily is effectively handled and it’s great to have her navigating two awkward social circles, at home (with a new father figure and step-siblings) and at school (with immature classmates). I think everyone will identify with at least one of her awkward situations, or be able to put themselves in her shoes. Spaeny and Monaghan bring a particularly believable spark to their mother-daughter relationship too.

The first sign of trouble with The Craft: Legacy is how quickly the witches form a coven and start casting advanced spells, many of them now enhanced by VFX. The original was more limited in what it could portray, so the most memorable act of sorcery was the ‘light as a feather stiff as a board’ scene—that’s reprised here with little fanfare. While it’s understandable why you’d want the magic to look more impressive for a modern audience gorged on big-budget extravaganzas, it’s a shame things aren’t more realistic because that would fit the mood better. And there’s no real explanation for how or why the three girls got into magic to begin with, or a sense that their powers are growing and becoming a little unmanageable. Lily’s the only character who gets fleshed out to any great extend, becoming the very reason for the film’s Legacy suffix.

There’s a theme of embracing female power to defeat toxic masculinity, which is trendy but won’t please those numbed by woke culture. The script does a good job with most of its new ideas, but it’s a terrible decision to make the four girls such a cohesive group throughout. The Craft found drama in having the witches fall out with each other with exciting repercussions, but Legacy goes in the opposite direction and struggles through a less eventful second act because of it.

The climax is also far too low-key and ends abruptly, which drags the whole film down without a satisfying feel. There’s a coda to please middle-aged OG Craft fans, as if to compensate, but that scene itself is underwhelming for its brevity. These downsides wouldn’t be an issue if Legacy was a feature-length pilot for a new TV series (which it does resemble in scale and tone), but with no guaranteed sequel it’s an unsatisfying way to wrap up.

The Craft: Legacy is ultimately a misfire with good intentions behind it. Cailee Spaeny’s excellent and the script updates the concept in smart ways, but it lacks the edge of its predecessor. You need some danger and weirdness in a horror film about adolescent witches discovering their power (figuratively and otherwise), but Legacy lacks crucial bite. It’s tame and preachy with an undernourished narrative and sketchy characterisations outside of the lead. Sadly that means it’ll be easily forgotten because it missed easy chances to have some devilish fun.

USA CANADA | 2020 | 97 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Zoe Lister-Jones.
writer: Zoe Lister-Jones (based on ‘The Craft’ by Andrew Fleming & Peter Filardi).
starring: Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, Zoey Luna, Michelle Monaghan & David Duchovny.