By LYNN BARKER
Front Row Features Film Critic
In 1996, teenage girls were inspired to take a crack at spell-casting with the release of “The Craft,” directed by Andrew Fleming and starring Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk and Rachel True. In the process, those fans learned that witchcraft was cool and had some upsides but if allowed to spin out of control, it could turn against them and their loved ones.
“The Craft: Legacy,” the long-awaited stand-alone sequel, is helmed and written by Zoe Lister-Jones, who made the 2017 movie “Band Aid,” about a marriage in trouble. With her latest film, Lister-Jones attempts to champion female empowerment but the through-line on this concept is a bit murky.
High schoolers Tabby (Lovie Simone), Lourdes (Zoey Luna) and Frankie (Gideon Adlon) dabble in witchcraft and represent the four “corners,” directions and elements earth, air and fire. They are missing their fourth, the water element, to supercharge their powers. Meanwhile, teen Lily (Cailee Spaeny of “Pacific Rim: Uprising”) and her mom Eunice (Michelle Monaghan) move in with mom’s new boyfriend (David Duchovny) who makes a living writing and lecturing about male power and dominance. He also has three teenage sons—Abe, Isiah and Jacob—who aren’t thrilled to gain a sister.
At her new school, Lily has an accident with her period which leads to taunts from some inconsiderate boys, especially Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), who torments her until she takes refuge in the bathroom, crying. Enter the coven girls who are understanding. When they take notice that Lily is wearing a four corners necklace, they wonder if she might be their “Fourth.”
After Lily emerges from the bathroom, Timmy resumes his taunts, but this time Lily fights back—she appears to push him to the ground … with her mind. This convinces the witchy trio that their coven is can now be complete. They reveal to Lily that they are witches and, with her as their water element, they can do powerful magic together. The girl, however, seems upset and confused, telling the other girls that nobody in her family is magical, but she agrees to join them anyway. At home, her new dad’s controlling side grows increasingly frightening.
After confirming that Lily is the needed Fourth, the girls put a spell on Timmy to be “his best self” and it works big time. He becomes more understanding and supportive. Lily becomes attracted to the “new” Timmy and he to her. She puts a mild love spell on him and they make out. He starts to hang out with the coven, having no idea they are witches. In class, the kids learn that Timmy was found dead at home of an apparent suicide, which makes no sense. The coven feels somewhat responsible and breaks up.
Lily mourns Timmy, feels guilty, discovers secrets about herself and learns more about her stepdad’s weird masculine empowerment practices. Will she decide to use her powers? Will the coven reunite and survive? Who is Lily’s real mom?
Like the Robin Tunney character in the original “The Craft,” Lily is at first naïve and clueless of anything witchy but gradually learns her legacy and powers. She and her old coven are enemies by the film’s end. SPOILER ALERT: In this sequel, the girls reconnect.
“The Craft: Legacy” could use an unhinged character like Nancy, played in the original by Fairuza Balk to spice things up and a not so on-the-nose villain played by a miscast Duchovny, whose “Man’s Man” character is written so over-the-top that it escapes any element of believability, especially when he tells his sons and followers that men should be in charge as he professes in his books such as “The Hallowed Masculine.”
Lily’s new stepbrothers add almost nothing to advance the plot. The youngest, Abe, is a little friendly to Lily and reveals a bit about his father’s sexist Guy Power beliefs but otherwise, the characters seem unnecessary. There are some nice bonding scenes between Spaeny and Galitzine as Lily and Timmy. Social updates including a transgender witch and a Questioning young male lead are laudable, but, essentially, add nothing to the plot.
Viewers may question if female empowerment and bonding is based on dark magic then is the story sending an immoral message? “The Craft: Legacy” could have used a bit more white magic, perhaps some “for the good of all” spells to lay down a firm “girl power rocks” theme. There is a bit of a surprise ending that gives a nod to the first film and makes the viewer wonder just what type of future is in store for Lily.
Overall, despite flaws, “The Craft: Legacy” makes a watchable Halloween season film especially for younger audiences. It will be available on Digital and On Demand Wednesday Oct. 28.