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Non-Review Review: The Craft – Legacy

The Craft: Legacy is, as the title implies, a legacy sequel to The Craft.

The Craft is an interesting film. It received something of a critical drubbing on initial release, but there have since been conscious efforts to reevaluate it. This is not unusual in female-focused horror; Jennifer’s Body has undergone another recent critical reappraisal, and deservedly so. The Craft is an interesting film in this sense; it is certainly a better movie than many critics thought it was, if not quite the hidden masterpiece that its modern defenders would want it to be.

Picture imperfect.

One of the key and enduring strengths of The Craft was that it was a relatively rare example of a female-focused supernatural horror movie when it was released, explicitly engaged with the idea of female empowerment in the context of the mid-nineties, filtered through a teenage perspective. (It arrived a year before Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) The fact that this was an underserved market was perhaps best illustrated by the launch of the similarly-themed television show Charmed two years later, which would quietly run for eight seasons.

The Craft was imperfect, but it scratched a very strong itch. The Craft: Legacy naturally arrives at a very different time. While audiences looking for these sorts of genre stories about young women grappling with supernatural metaphors for empowerment in a hostile world, there are far more options than there were in 1994. The Craft: Legacy needs to do more than just offer a nostalgic reminder of a film that has slowly and surely built up a cult following. Unfortunately, the film can’t even do that.

Getting Coven with Stepdad.

Legacy is an exercise in nostalgia. It is very specifically an exercise in nostalgia for The Craft, understandably. The film builds to a late cameo that is both inevitable and slightly depressing; a sequel hook straight from the modern franchise playbook. If Legacy offers the obligatory “young characters reboot” of the property akin to Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Force Awakens, then that closing scene seems to be setting up something similar to the franchise’s take on X-Men: Days of Future Past. It’s cynical, but it’s also hollow.

However, the nostalgia runs deeper than that. Legacy is consciously designed as an exercise in nineties nostalgia in general. The film introduces its protagonist, Lily (as in Lilith), listening to Alanis Morissette on a road trip with her mother, who is a therapist. Lily likes to take photographs, with her polaroid camera. Lily and her mother are embarking on a journey together to meet Lily’s mother’s new boyfriend, who is played by David Duchovny. It is all very nineties.

The seven(teen) year (old) witch…

Who is the intended audience for Legacy? The obvious answer would seem to be for teenagers, given the film’s PG-13 rating that seems intended to attract as young an audience as possible, which makes this pandering seem a little unusual. Even if Legacy is supposed to be welcoming fans of the original version of The Craft, that movie’s status as a cult hit with an audience of fans that came to it over time makes this nineties nostalgia feel somewhat misguided. Surely fans of The Craft are less likely to fans of a particular time, and more likely to be fans of a particular genre?

There’s a stilted awkwardness to Legacy, particularly in its efforts to write believable teenagers. While the film’s nineties trappings seem intended to appeal to older fans, the movie also struggles to convincingly sketch its core cast. There’s a strong sense of “how do you do, fellow kids?” to the film’s portrayal of its teenage protagonists. “Y’all, witches ready?” the film asks in its opening scene. The audience is told that Frankie is “a Twilight stan” and that Tabby loves Beyoncé, cultural markers that feel roughly a decade out of date for modern teenagers.

Taking a shine to the material.

To be fair, writer and director Zoe Lister-Jones does try to position Legacy as a film with a distinctly modern sensibility. Some of this actually works relatively well, such as the relative ease that the movie feels with the sexuality of its teenage characters, with Lily’s menstruation serving as a key plot point. More than that, Legacy very consciously and very overtly makes a point to weave the idea of “consent” into its core narrative. The result is a movie similar to Blockers, in the sense that it is not afraid to acknowledge the lives of its female teenage protagonist.

Unfortunately, Legacy gets very muddled very quickly. Most of this is down to the fact that Legacy is not an especially subtle movie. This is evident in its use of David Duchovny, casting the former X-Files lead as a thinly-veiled analogue for Jordan Peterson. He is a speaker on “masculinity in crisis”, who handily keeps framed copies of articles with headings like “man up” in his study, along with books like “The Hallowed Masculinity” on his shelf. In case the parallels are too subtle, this men’s rights analogue is literally named “Adam” and associated with snakes.

Getting on board with it all.

There’s nothing wrong with trying use a story about witchcraft to explore the idea of masculinity in crisis and the rise in anti-feminism. Indeed, there are moments when the film brushes against interesting ideas. Adam lectures at length about how “power equals control” and even warns the protagonist, “That’s the thing about girls with power, Lily: they’re always too weak not to use it against each other.” However, it’s all very broad and very generic, like it has been copied off the back of a cereal box. It makes the interrogation of toxic masculinity in Black Christmas seem subtle.

There are other problems. On a simple narrative level, its thematic dynamics get somewhat muddled in a key subplot focusing on a male supporting character, one that brushes up against the idea of “consent” as it relates to the use of magic. This is understandably a thorny topic, and Legacy broaches the topic in potentially uncomfortable ways. However, it also retreats from it rather sharply and dramatically without completely unpacking the subtext at play. It is a very cynical and very calculate move.

Girl powers.

(There are other similarly muddled moments. The film involves trans actor Zoey Luna, and so is unlikely to be intentionally transphobic. However, in the context of a movie that is very consciously playing with ideas related to gender and orientation, there are certain uncomfortable elements to a key climactic beat that involves a male character disguising himself as a woman in an effort to steal women’s powers. It does not feel like there is any conscious malice here, just a refusal to follow any of the film’s bigger ideas to their logical conclusion.)

However, the film’s problems are more fundamental than this. It struggles with tone, uncertain whether it is a horror, a coming of age story, or a comedy. Legacy swerves sharply at various points between genres, and never settles into a comfortable grove. The film never seems entirely sure how seriously it wants to take itself, but it’s also never completely certain how comfortable it is with the idea of the audience laughing at it. The result is a film with something of an identity crisis. This perhaps befits its protagonists, but doesn’t make for a satisfying film.

Lil(y) troublemaker.

The influence of superhero cinema is keenly felt in Legacy. There is a lot of talk about “powers” in a literal (plural) sense, rather than in a more abstract or metaphorical sense. The film asks lead actor Cailee Spaeny to do a lot of the “hand acting” that blockbusters expect of modern protagonists, an artform arguably mastered by Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class. Perhaps the funniest moment of the film arrives at the climax, with Lily waving her hands around frantically hoping that CGI will kick in, only for the villain to goad, “Those don’t seem to be working any more.”

Legacy is an underwhelming mess of a film, but it does at least validate The Craft in one important way: at least audiences looking to recapture these highs have better options available to them these days.

One Response

  1. Okay I get how making one character a “Twilight stan” qualifies as making a dated reference (although from what I’ve seen online even Twilight seems to be having a kindof mini-renaissance), but how is Beyonce a “cultural marker that feels roughly a decade out of date for modern teenagers” – she’s still making music and is popular with the general public; including teenagers.

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