The Craft: Legacy is likely a sequel that no one wanted, but that is never the way to approach these kinds of continuations. Any good storyteller can take a property and find a direction that not only creatively justifies its existence, but also manifests something that could stand on its own. A recent example would be the undervalued masterpiece that is Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep, based on a not-great book and burdened with being a follow-up to Stanley Kubrick’s genre-defining version of The Shining.
The point is that a new version or sequel to a dormant property is not doomed from the start. Unfortunately, The Craft: Legacy does fall into some common stumbling blocks early on. The film’s premise kicks off with basically a familiar remake of the 1996 film’s opening beats: three high school witches meet a new girl, Lily (Cailee Spaeny), and realize that she is the fourth one they need to complete their coven. While their attitudes might be just different enough to not feel like carbon copies, they functionally play similar roles for the first act or so of the movie.
Thankfully, the main cast is easily the best thing about The Craft: Legacy, so spending these well-trodden beats with them isn’t insufferable. Though they are able to deliver affable enough performances, they are undercut by a script that is far less enjoyable. Writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones has a very clear mission with this version of the story, and though her intentions are good, they end up paving a path to a poorly executed bit of storytelling.
The Craft: Legacy wants to talk about modern-day riffs on subjects like feminism and toxic masculinity, and that is not an inherently bad thing. Movies like Get Out and The Invisible Man have utilized genre storytelling to tackle topical issues with unquestionable motivations, and they have been successful because they understand how to use their genre toolbox to best tell those stories and empower their messages. Their messaging is direct without being blunt.
That is not the case with The Craft: Legacy. It wields topical vocabulary as if it is a deeply meaningful discourse, making its conversations often come across as dog-whistling instead of thoughtful examination. It paints a picture of modern progressivism as being up-to-date with whatever the current lingo is instead of actually tackling some of its more complicated issues with the nuance they deserve. A lot of this is channeled through a plotline that involves a hyper-masculine bully named Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) who is bewitched to become his “highest self”, and the ensuing story with him reaches embarrassing levels of ineptitude.
Especially when it comes to how his character is eventually treated. We won’t spoil things in this review, but suffice to say that if you click this link you will understand what kind of bad tropes The Craft: Legacy ends up falling into. It ends up putting its messaging ahead of its storytelling when the latter should be what helps to inform the former. And when a big turn happens towards the third act, that messaging has not been given its strongest thematic weight.
It’s a bummer because Lister-Jones is a good director. For as disappointingly low budget as nearly all the effects sequences are, The Craft: Legacy does not fall victim to a ton of lazy or bad filmmaking choices. There is even a sequence that, while derivative, nails a truly creepy mood and jump scare. If anything, Lister-Jones could have doubled down on the outright horror of this take because she shows her most effective prowess during this sequence.
What’s incredibly disappointing is that The Craft: Legacy shows real promise early on and that’s actually when it’s being the least creative by directly echoing so much of the original. The chemistry between the leads is good and there is a desire to go in a very different direction than the first movie. But, when it finally makes that turn, it can’t help but default to burning a straw man in order to make sure you understand exactly what it is trying to say.
The Craft: Legacy is not a bad movie by the nature of existence. It is a bad movie because it fails to put stock in the parts of its story that should matter most: creating complex characters and letting their actions and emotions guide the story. Instead, everyone ends up feeling like nothing but mouthpieces for Zoe Lister-Jones’s particular take on the messaging she wants to deliver. All of this is punctuated by a lack of effective comedy, an extremely mishandled villain, and a script that never feels as committed as the actresses that are on the screen.
Maybe The Craft: Legacy will speak to a younger demographic with its easily hashtaggable dialogue points, but it can’t help but feel condescending and antithetical to what it wants to get across to the audience. And as an added twist of the knife, the very end features a familiar face that will definitely help solidify the argument that this kind of legacy sequel is not one that anyone actually wanted.