You don’t have to have seen the 1996 teen flick The Craft (I haven’t) to loathe its 2020 sequel, The Craft: Legacy, which was written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, and which is newly available now on HBO Max, Hulu, Apple TV, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play in North America, and on Viasat in northern Europe.
The first movie, which has been described as a cult classic, was about a coven of four teenage witches who cast a love spell on a cruel boy, a revenge spell on a racist prom queen, and a death spell on an abusive stepfather. But things go sideways when one of the witches takes her witchcraft too far, is deprived of her powers, and ends up in a mental hospital.
Needless to say, witches are nothing new in youth entertainment. And I suppose they’re not necessarily damaging. I watched Bewitched (1964–72) as a kid, and I came out okay. A whole generation of kids on both sides of the pond were raised on the Harry Potter books (1997–2007) and movies (2001–11), not to mention TV’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996–2003) and Charmed (1998–2006, 2018–present).
In any event, these witchy works seem downright quaint alongside The Craft: Legacy, which gives us teenage witchcraft with a particularly sulfurous woke-era twist. The story begins when Helen (Michelle Monaghan, a fixture in the Mission: Impossible franchise) moves in with her boyfriend, Adam (The X-Files’ David Duchovny, who still can’t act), and his three sons, bringing along her misfit daughter, Lily (Cailee Spaeny).
At first things aren’t looking up for Lily. At school, snotty jock Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) — the best friend of Adam’s second-oldest son, Jacob (Charles Vandervaart) — laughs cruelly when she starts menstruating in class. As if this weren’t unpleasant enough, Lily finds out that Adam is a bestselling author of how-to books about masculine empowerment. So, given the already obvious politics of this picture, we know right off that he’s a bad guy.
The good news for Lily is that three of her classmates turn out to be witches who immediately recognize — even though she hasn’t figured it out yet herself — that she, like them, has supernatural powers. They explain it to her, and next thing you know the four of them, exercising those powers jointly, have transformed Timmy from a chauvinist of the first water into a meek, chronically apologetic beta male who wears an earring, calls himself “cis,” complains about “heteronormativity,” and gushes over trans activist Janet Mock’s “race politics” and “gender politics.” The intended laugh here, note well, is not over the idiocy of the jargon of gender politics — heaven (sorry, hell) forfend — but the purportedly admirable ability of these daughters of Satan to transform a frog, as it were, into a prince.
“I’m really into woke Timmy,” one of Lily’s fellow witches enthuses. As for Lily, she’s head over heels with her Galatea. She casts a love spell over him, and it does the job. Alas, the next morning there’s grim news: Timmy has been found dead, apparently of suicide. In response, Adam holds a testosterone-heavy bonding ritual with his sons and other members of the odious patriarchy. “How do we alchemize weakness into sovereign power?” Adam asks them, evangelical preacher-style. “How do we eliminate the weakest among us so that the strongest can thrive?” Anent Timmy’s death, he pronounces, “We all face tragedy every day. The question is how do we face it?” To comfort the obviously grieving Jacob, Adam tells him gruffly, “You’re not weak. He was weak!”
I wouldn’t be surprised if The Craft: Legacy break new grounds in encouraging misandry — and wokeness generally — among impressionable adolescent girls.
The movie couldn’t be more ham-handed in drawing a contrast between men — those tyrants who, when they get together in groups, are all about control and aggression and survival of the fittest — and women, at least witches, whose covens, we’re informed, are sites of affection and healing. As Tabby (Lovie Simone), one of Lily’s fellow witches, puts it, belonging to a coven is about “building trust” and “building community.”
Adam, Lily senses, is an even more dangerous piece of work than most of his fellow XY-chromosome types. Sharing this impression with her mom, she begs for them to get out of Dodge, but to no avail. Her suspicions are soon confirmed when Timmy tells her and her coven — via a Ouija board conversation, of course — that (as the viewer has already surmised) Adam killed him.
Anyway, the story — spoiler alert — winds up in a climactic woodland encounter between the four witches and Adam, who, it turns out, isn’t just a sexist and a killer but a shape-shifting creature who has his own supernatural powers and is out to steal theirs. Because, he tells Lily, “girls with power are always too weak to use it against each other.” He elaborates: “Power is order. It belongs in the hands of those who understand it. It’s been that way for thousands of years. Timmy understood that, until you tried to make him over in your own image.” The girls’ Timmy makeover was a mistake, he says, “because we are not in your image. We are your rulers and kings.”
Yes, that’s verbatim. The most passionate man-hater in the National Women’s Studies Association couldn’t have come up with a more reprehensible misogynist. How else can the witches respond to his terribly un-woke rhetoric other than by joining forces and subjecting him to the most retributive incantation of all time? Summoning the cosmic power of fire, they look on with delight while Adam burns to a crisp. I must admit that while I figured he’d get it in the end, I didn’t expect this flick for kids to make it quite so graphic.
I wasn’t familiar with the creator of this picture, so I looked her up. Zoe Lister-Jones, 39 and Brooklyn-born, has appeared in a dozen-odd movies I never heard of, was a regular on Whitney Cummings’s short-lived NBC sitcom, and debuted as a director with a 2017 comedy-drama called Band Aid. She most recently made headlines — and snagged a big, splashy profile in People magazine last December — when, in an Instagram post, she accused actor Chris Noth (Mr. Big of Sex and the City fame) of leaning over to her on a soundstage in 2005 and whispering, “You smell good.” Burn him! Burn him!
I’m no expert on current teen cinema, but I wouldn’t be surprised if The Craft: Legacy break new grounds in encouraging misandry — and wokeness generally — among impressionable adolescent girls. Then again, for some viewers these days, some movies can never be PC enough. In his review for Variety, Peter Debruge asked, “Doesn’t bewitching a dude into making out with you … amount to violating his consent?” Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, for his part, celebrated the young witches’ awareness “of the social injustices ever surrounding people in America today, both the strangling claw of history and the present-tense clench of Trumpism.” (See, you can even work Trump into a review of a movie about teenage witches!)
The release of the movie online has unleashed a new round of raves, including Aya Tsintziras’s February 14 panegyric at the GameRant website. It pronounced the sequel even better than the original — which she regards as an underrated masterpiece — partly because the new film is inclusive (one of the witches is played — who knew? — by a trans actress) and partly because the violent destruction of the Duchovny character “is thrilling to watch and also very meaningful.”
Yeah, about that. Back in the Bewitched days, and even during the reign of Harry Potter, it was possible to argue that these were works of innocent fun and fantasy, and that any critic who tried to mount some heavy-handed argument about their glorification of the Dark Arts was taking it all way too seriously. But The Craft: Legacy is something else. It comes uncomfortably close to drawing a disturbing dichotomy — on the one side, virtuous, communal-minded, and thoroughly woke females who exercise powers traditionally identified with Satan, and, on the other, malevolent, individualistic-minded males who are identified with pre-woke thinking and whose male-encounter session seems to be intended by Lister-Jones to remind us of a charismatic church service. I must confess that sitting through this thing made me feel a bit like a Jehovah’s Witness on Halloween.
Meanwhile, if you hear the faint sound of music coming from beneath your floorboards, it may just be a chorus in Hades singing “Hooray for Hollywood.”
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