The mid ’90s were a renaissance period for cult classic horror, supplying us with unforgettable pieces of film history like The Faculty, Silence of the Lambs, Scream, and, of course, The Craft. The 1996 witch movie was an easy sell at the time: a high school drama about misfits who get in over their heads as their powers spiral out of control, starring big names like Neve Campbell, just before her breakout performance as Sidney Prescott in Scream. It combined a catchy alt-rock soundtrack with all the ’90s horror staples, like long black duster jackets, embarrassing hair, and plenty of jocks-vs-nerds drama.
It’s easy to see why The Craft is such a fan favorite, despite being an obvious product of its time. So naturally, when a sequel was announced 24 years after the fact, there was some justifiable anxiety. After all, what is The Craft if stripped of its ’90s nostalgia? And what would a movie so deeply married to the tropes of a bygone era even look like if updated for a modern audience?
The unfortunate answer is: probably about how and what you’d expect. The Craft: Legacy has all the best intentions, but it overcorrects and overcompensates for its predecessor in ways that lack both charm and subtlety.
Focusing on a new generation of amateur witches, Legacy’s setup is very familiar at first. Teenager Lily (Cailee Spaeny) is moving to a new town with her recently remarried mom (Michelle Monaghan). Her new step-dad (David Duchovny) has three sons and an extremely specific career as a motivational speaker-slash-guru for men. At school, Lily meets Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone), and Lourdes (Zoey Luna), three would-be witches who are in need of a fourth for their group to “call the corners,” a conceit lifted wholesale from the first movie.
Naturally, Lily learns that she’s an incredibly gifted witch and the girls quickly form their very own coven where they use their newfound powers for mostly harmless gain–so harmless, in fact, it’s actually a little confusing. Instead of pulling off any meaningful transformations that would require magic, or even using their abilities for thrill-seeking (think the close call in the car from the original), there’s a montage of the girls performing “spells” on each other that seemingly just amount to glitter effects being added to their skin like makeup and Lily taking some sort of ritualistic bath with flowers and milk for some reason. But in the midst of all their hashtag-aesthetic fun, they also cast a spell on local bully, Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), this version’s stand-in for Skeet Ulrich’s character. Except unlike Ulrich’s Chris Hooker, who falls victim to a love spell that makes him dysfunctionally obsessive and terrifying, Timmy gets hit with a supernatural whammy designed to make him less of a jerk.
Without getting into spoiler territory, the spell put on Timmy epitomizes the way Legacy’s good intentions get away from it. It wants, very badly, to update some of The Craft’s more unfortunate and dated ideas, like Chris Hooker’s near brush with sexual assault, or the movie’s third act twist that pits the girls against each other. It’s a noble goal, but instead of allowing Legacy’s characters and story to reach it organically, every step of the way feels mired in weirdly stilted winks at the camera about its own “woke” take.
None of the characters actually speak or behave like authentic high school students. At one point, the girls have a somewhat protracted conversation about how one of them is a “Twilight stan” and compare another to Edward Cullen. It feels artificial and weirdly dated–not to mention the comparison to Robert Pattinson’s character makes next to no sense, even in context. At another point, everyone sits down to play “two truths and a lie,” the patented get-to-know-you icebreaker generally forced upon anyone who’s ever sat through a business meeting or an introductory college course, as if it’s some sort of salacious party game for tipsy teenagers. It doesn’t work at all.
This problem persists so blatantly through the movie that at times it becomes genuinely hard to watch. At another point, the dialogue gets so mired in its own attempts to sound hip that it actually starts to loop back around and come off as mocking and condescending, as if topics like gender politics and representation are punchlines rather than conversations that are genuinely worth having. The overall effect is confusing and cringe-worthy.
It’s unfortunate, and the other conscious steps Legacy takes to try and update The Craft’s formula are similarly well-intentioned but poorly executed. The movie’s villain reveal is a great effort to pivot away from the original’s girls-fighting-girls conclusion, but the exposition is paced so slowly and delivered so carelessly that it somehow feels hours too long, despite the movie’s 90-minute runtime.
There’s also a distinct lack of genuine scares. The original Craft skewed light on traditional horror in favor of things like the occasional gross-out involving snakes or scars or supernatural hair loss, but Legacy stops short of just about everything. There are a handful of bodily fluid gags–and credit where credit is due, one of them is very realistic–but they’re not actually scary or all that gross. To top it off, the villain’s small collection of menacing moments are so obviously telegraphed you’ll be wondering how and why no one’s noticed what’s really going on.
It’s not all bad, however. The core cast does their best performing what they can from the stilted script, and there’s even a handful of brutally honest interactions between Lily and her mom or Lily and her classmates that do feel genuine. They’re just, unfortunately, overshadowed by the awkwardness of the rest of the movie.
If you’re feeling nostalgic this halloween season and looking for a good witch movie to get into the spooky spirit, you’ll be better off just revisiting the original.