The Craft: Legacy (2020)

JANUARY 5, 2021


When I revisited The Craft a few weeks ago I noted that it was kind of the "2nd best" option for a lot of things (i.e. 2nd best Neve Campbell/Skeet Ulrich genre movie, 2nd scariest Fairuza Balk movie, etc), and now we can add another to the list: it's the 2nd best Craft movie. Blumhouse's The Craft: Legacy (yes, that's the very stupid on-screen title) isn't exactly a home run, but if I had a teen daughter of my own, it would be the one I rather she watched with her friends at a sleepover or whatever. Not only does it lack the F-bomb that gave the first one an R rating, keeping her ears pure (surely this theoretical daughter would NEVER have heard her father use such terrible language, no sir!) allowing it to stay in PG-13 territory, but after a similar first half it pivots into something that carries a stronger message to impart on the impressionable young women watching.

And that is the fact that this time, the girls stick together. There's a little split at the end of act two, but it unfolds in the opposite way of the original - this time, the good girl heroine Lily (Cailee Spaeny) starts losing control of her powers and the other three bind her AND themselves from using magic anymore, seeing that they're going down a path of using the powers for less wholesome things and betraying the witch's code or whatever. Basically, they stop themselves from ending up like the girls in the original! But when Lily needs help, the trio quickly rush to help, their bond strong enough to overcome the villain and end the movie on a "friends stick together!" note instead of "now everyone hates each other and the heroine seemingly hasn't learned anything" one of the original.

Plus the villain is a man, so that'll go down well with the target audience (spoilers ahead, though I mean, no one should be surprised by any of this). This film is a Blumhouse production (a rare partnership with Sony; nice to know they can access IPs beyond Universal) and seemingly came from the same "All Men Are Bastards!" development execs that gave us the Black Christmas remake, as once again the film is allotted exactly one (1) male who seems to be a good guy while the others are all shitheads. And they even rope in another aging heartthrob as their leader; Black Christmas gave us Cary "Westley" Elwes and here we have David Duchovny, as Lily's stepdad that is the head of a Pagan cult seeking to usurp Lily of her power. Duchovny is clearly enjoying himself in a rare villain role, and as such it's a shame they make some very lazy attempts to hide his true nature for a while instead of letting him cut loose throughout. As soon as he, Adam, introduces his sons* Jacob, Isaiah, and Abe (aka Abraham) we know he's into some religious nonsense, and then we learn he writes books on the power of masculinity, so we also know he sucks. But it's like another hour before we find out he's also a warlock. LEAD with that, then you have something!

But alas, like the original, the horror elements are pretty light, though without that R rating (or an unhinged member of the coven; no one is taking up Fairuza's mantle here) it never feels "lacking", either. It does a better job of coming off as a coming of age/life lesson kinda thing with some light genre elements sprinkled in to give it some kick, kind of like how so many '80s comedies had a random action sequence for the climax, and I never really minded that the film was a bit of a stretch to refer as "horror". I DO wish they had given the other girls a bit more dimension, however - if you thought the first one neglected to really flesh out the trio of new pals, you'll be even more disappointed here, as we know next to nothing about any of them by the end of it. One of them is transgender, one of them is Black, and the other one is... fun? I guess? The performers are fine and share a great chemistry (a big step up from the original in that department, where it seems their witch stuff was their only link) but I don't think any of them are even afforded scenes of their own; they are joined at the hip throughout.

That said, I kind of appreciated the "not a big deal" approach with regards to the transgender character (played by Zoey Luna, an actual transgender actress, thankfully). Rather than turn it into a *thing* that might alienate the very people who could use the exposure, writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones just has them say so in a rather amusing way (she notes that she can't give birth but that "trans girls have their own magic!") and doesn't really address it much again. Even Lily, identified as a bit of a sheltered type who never really had any friends except her mom, doesn't even react to it - Luna may as well have just been telling her that she likes coffee. Some might say this is a way of ignoring it or a missed opportunity to educate, but from my (white man, yes, I know) perspective it's a good way to depict the way it SHOULD be, i.e. no big deal. If it became a major subplot, not only would there be potential "getting it wrong" kind of moments, but it'd also give transphobic jackasses some ammo for their poorly thought out missives, claiming the movie was "pushing a lifestyle" on impressionable viewers or whatever. Instead it's just there, and no one cares any more than they do about us cisgendered types. It's kind of beautiful in its low-key way.

I also very much enjoyed how they used the Skeet Ulrich replacement character of Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine). Whereas the douchey jock became a sort of lovesick lapdog in the first one, Timmy is basically turned "woke" by their spell, and what's initially played as comic relief eventually evolves into giving the film one of its most emotionally charged beats. At first he earns a few chuckles by suddenly becoming a staunch ally of women (introduced as a loudmouth bully, he now complains about another guy being disrespectful to a female student, and extols the virtues of Princess Nokia), but as he gets closer to the girls and plays sleepover games with them, he ultimately admits that he is bisexual and how he has to hide it because neither sex will see him as anything but "a gay guy". It's a fairly heartbreaking scene, and it's a shame that the film's plot machinations result in it being more or less left there, as (spoiler) he continues playing the "Skeet role" to the same conclusion, if you catch my meaning.

And that brings us to what holds the movie back a bit - it seems tampered with. His exit from the movie is very awkwardly handled, plus Duchovny's coven plays no part in the proceedings after they're introduced, and the various subplots with his sons (one of whom seems to not want to follow in his older brothers' footsteps) go absolutely nowhere - they just disappear from the film. The trailer has a completely different "We are the weirdos" reprise (different scene, different person giving the line), and - worst of all - shows another scene that is not only absent from the movie, but ends up spoiling a major twist in a way (SPOILERS AHEAD for those who have not seen the trailer!). In the spot, we see Lily open a book and see a picture of Nancy (Balk's character), but that doesn't appear in the film (I'm not even sure where it would occur), which tells the people they are advertising the movie to that this is a (very loose) sequel instead of a remake like I'm pretty sure it was originally pitched as. So anyone who saw the trailer knows that Balk is going to show up in some capacity, which makes the film's final scene a total non-surprise even though it is clearly designed to be one.

SPOILERS CONTINUE HERE! The reveal also doesn't really make any sense. We learn Lily is Nancy's daughter, which is how she got her powers, fine - but uh... when did Nancy have her? The film is, as the original was, set in the time it was produced, so it's been 23-24 years give or take. As a high school student she is at MOST 18 years old (she seems to be younger), so that would mean Nancy somehow got knocked up in the institution that she was in when the first film ended and where she remains now, which is just... ew. Having her be the daughter of Robin Tunney's character would make much more sense both from the logistics as well as the nature of her character, so I am curious if this was the original plan and availability got in the way, or if it was supposed to be set earlier and it got fudged in a TCM3D kind of way by a production not bothering with the hassle of making it a period piece. Either way, it doesn't really work with or without the trailer more or less giving it away.

So it's a shame it has these fumbles, because it gets more right than wrong, but is hard to recommend overall when it has so many unresolved plot points and underdeveloped characters. The deleted scenes do not help much (though it does explain who they are talking about when auras are introduced; one character has a grandmother with powers who had a minor role that got totally excised), and the featurettes are, as can be expected nowadays, fluffy nothings, so don't go looking there for any clues as to what might have changed along the way. But again, I think it's an improvement on the original simply for the more satisfying climax (not counting the stupid potential sequel setup) and a stronger bond between the girls - it's legit endearing seeing them pal around, and also seem more like actual teens for what it's worth (at 21-22 the oldest one here is about the age Fairuza - the *youngest* of the original quartet - was then). Ultimately, you'll see some backlash from fans of the original because it was this formative thing for them and this new one doesn't live up to their 20+ year history with the title, but they're forgetting that this is going to be a formative movie for young girls now. And I, the 40 year old man with no dog in the race, thinks this one's better.

Plus, Blumhouse's revival standard of black goo (from Fantasy Island and Black Christmas) that they stole from X-Files makes another appearance and this time it infects Mulder himself, which is pretty funny.

What say you?

*Another SPOILER here: the epilogue laughably avoids the question of what happens to his teenaged boys now that he is dead and Monaghan is, obviously, moving on with her life. Do they just leave them to their own devices?


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