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Review: The Craft (1996)

The Craft (1996)

Directed by: Andrew Fleming

Premise: A group of teenage witches form a coven and begin using musical spells. As their magical skills increase, the young women struggle to control their powers.

What Works: In the 1990s there was a resurgence of interest in the gothic and the supernatural. In media this showed up in movies like The Crow, music albums like Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar, and television shows like Charmed. One of the more interesting movies to come out of this trend was The Craft. The picture is a unique combination of horror, fantasy, and high school drama and it interweaves elements of those genres very well. The Craft tells the story of a young woman at a new school who connects with a new group of friends and the movie plays as a metaphor of the perils of female adolescence. It is in many respects an empowering movie; love stories and crushes figure into the story but the women are not constantly obsessing over boys nor is their entire sense of self based on who will be their boyfriend. Instead, the girls form a social group unto themselves and take control of their lives through the use of magic. But what is unique about The Craft is that the filmmakers recognize that empowerment must go hand-in-hand with responsibility. As these young women develop their magical skills they learn to be accountable for the things that they unleash. That gives The Craft some extra insight and intelligence and it makes their magical doings more meaningful. The Craft is very well cast. The central characters are played by Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Rachel True, and Neve Campbell and the script differentiates each of them as individual characters. Each has her own struggle to deal with and as high school age women they come across as more realistic than a lot of similar characters in other movies. Fairuza Balk is the most watchable; her character is corrupted by the power she achieves but she also retains an element of sympathy that keeps her from becoming a stereotypical super-villain.

What Doesn’t: The Craft is very much a picture of the mid-1990s. The production has the look of television shows from that time and the main cast features actors who were familiar from 1990s network television including Neve Campbell and Rachel True. For that reason, The Craft may be of more interest to viewers who came of age in the 1990s than it will be for older or younger audiences. The Craft also relies heavily on the high school story template. Like movies before and since, The Craft has a protagonist who is new at school and navigates her way among the hierarchy of the student body, finding herself in the process. The movie overplays some of these themes while also underplaying some major turns in the action. This is especially true as the witches’ power gets violent and high school students end up dead. The deaths don’t have the kind of weight or consequences that they ought to and this cheapens the drama. The film’s problems with magic are typical of stories dealing with the supernatural. Magic is generally more effective in a story when it is used subtly and the film does that to start but as the power escalates, The Craft becomes increasingly like a superhero movie. Magic is also problematic for storytellers because it is a tempting cheat and it can create problems with consistency. That is certainly the case in the ending of The Craft as the picture tosses out its own rules in favor of indulging special effects.

DVD extras: Commentary track, isolated score track, deleted scenes, featurette, talent files, and trailers.

Bottom Line: The Craft is an underappreciated fantasy picture and one of the most unique stories about witchcraft in American film. It does not have quite the finale that viewers might hope for but there is enough in it that is compelling to make it of interest to fans of horror and fantasy movies.

Episode: #429 (March 3, 2013)