I’m used to the fairly regular parade of long-delayed, under-the-radar sequels to mid-list hits … they used to be packaged with reissue DVDs of the original but now tend to hit VOD, hence the likes of Single White Female 2 or 8MM 2, and nearly off-the-books franchises like the Jarhead sequels or the Scorpion King saga. However, here’s one that managed to hit cinemas just before lockdown closed them again. Blumhouse have picked up and rebooted a high-profile properties in Halloween, The Invisible Man and Fantasy Island, but here they go with a cultier, more marginal item, the 1996 teen witch drama The Craft … adding some suspense as audiences wonder which star of of the original will pop up in a coda the way Corey Haim did in The Lost Boys The Tribe. NB: Skeet Ulrich, Rachel True and Assumpta Serna aren’t likely to be revealed as the real mother of a teenage protagonist, so your choices are Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk and Neve Campbell and I’ll bet most folk with come up with the right name, though any of the trio would have been welcome. This does some interesting things with the premise and doesn’t go down the usual route of just being a remake – though it might have been just as cool to get the original quartet of crafty women back and find out whether they’re still witchy in early middle age.
Androgynous teen Lily (Cailee Spaeny, recently seen in Devs) is moved across country by her therapist single Mom Helen (Michelle Monaghan) because she’s marrying Adam (David Duchovny), who comes across as somewhere between the Dad from The Brady Bunch and the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia (he’s a pundit and has authored a best-seller called The Hallowed Masculine). Writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones revives the female-centric craft of the earlier film – Lily completes a four winds circle with Tabby (Lovie Simone), Frankie (Gideon Adlon) and transgirl Lourdes (Zoey Luna), which brings out all their witchy powers – and contrasts it with Adam’s behind-closed-doors male supremacy philosophy, eventually revealing what seems like Iron John stuff as a form of warlockry. The girls’ first big spell is to make the school’s bullying jerk Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) into a nicer person, which allows for some too-easy comedy but also a streak of surprisingly felt drama as Lily, who fancies ‘woke Timmy’ enough to cast a love charm on him, is racked by guilt the more she finds out about why the old Timmy was so insecure and creepy.
This is the first film I’ve seen which has credits for crewmembers responsible for covid safety – and I wonder whether that, as much as the low budget, is why the film seems almost not-finished. Major characters and plotlines disappear or get tied up offscreen, and even a sequence as simple as four girls climbing out of a second storey window to avoid being caught doing magic is simply skipped over. There’s a lot going on with Adam’s three sons, and in that case just letting us infer what their storylines are without putting them centre-screen sort of works: it would be possible to make a film from their point of view, which would dovetail with this one. Sadly, three of the coven have almost no effect on the plot or character arcs to call their own, and get defined as the trans girl, the black girl (Simone, admittedly, gets one legit terrific set of lines – ‘I wish I had more black friends’ – that indicate a whole layer of complexity the film hints at but leaves there, as it does with several other apparently key characters) and the other girl. All the performances are fine – Spaeny is an unusual choice for a screen lead, and probably can carry a franchise, and the token grown-ups Monaghan and Duchovny underplay wisely. This raises a bunch of current issues and then handles them lightly – it goes out of its way not to be the caricature its basic pitch (woke witches vs men’s men) suggests, but settles next to the last Black Christmas remake as a sign of the times gender politics horror reboot. So much of this sequel is sketchy, in the old sense of not finished or fleshed-out, that it’s not really satisfying, and I can’t see it lingering in the memory the way the original – a solid film whose rep grew after initial release – has managed.