Viking Night: The Craft
By Bruce Hall
August 26, 2014

Light as a feather, stiff as a board taken to an extreme.

Something sinister is going on with boobs in this movie. I don’t know much about Andrew Fleming (he directed this film, and according to Wikipedia he’s not dead), but I know the man is trying to tell us something about boobs. Also witches, but I’m pretty sure that being a witch does something to your boobs. If you’re not sure about the title, The Craft is a mildly adventurous, mildly entertaining spin on the teen film genre where this time some of the kids are into witchcraft. But we’re not talking about the “turning people into newts” and “getting burned at the stake" kind. These girls are more the “levitating pencils,” “generating a slight but noticeable breeze,” and eventually the “manipulating your breast size at will” kind of witches.

That would be a welcome addition to any film, except for one thing. While the actresses who play them are well into their 20s, the characters themselves are high school kids. I feel like someone didn’t really think that through and I can’t be the only one who’s noticed this. I’m not saying it’s a deal breaker. We are, after all, talking about a movie where Neve Campbell plays a supernatural being with body image issues. But considering the degree to which these characters are eventually sexualized, it’s worth mentioning because it feels more than a little disingenuous.

Anyway - there are three witches, and they live in northern California. Nancy (Fairuza Balk) is the brains of the outfit. She lives in a leaky trailer with a shiftless, drunk mother and abusive father. She’s also a dark and stormy soul who dresses like a paramilitary Goth and whose demeanor suggests someone who drowns kittens for fun. Basically, she’s everything you want in a leader. Bonnie (Neve Campbell) is quiet and surly but suffers emotionally from an unspecified accident that left her with a horrible disfigurement - which is conveniently not on any visible part of her celebrity body. Rochelle (Rachel True) is what I would call the Token Ethnic Character if I were cynical, but I’m not. The script just happens to be written that way, so it's a total coincidence.

These are examples of how The Craft initially works hard to drum up your sympathy. Having to live with a physical disfigurement can’t be easy for anyone but when it allows you to still look like Neve Campbell – and your parents are totally super supportive of you – it’s hard to cry more than a little. Rochelle has to deal with exactly one racist bitch of a classmate, which of course is something nobody should have to endure. But Rosa Parks, she is not. Only Nancy’s life seems like actual hell but her character is treated the least sympathetically of them all. But the larger point is that they all are outcasts, and they all share the bond of witchcraft. They spend all their time together casting their incredibly subtle spells (I think I made that dog bark – or did it see another dog?) and patiently waiting for a prophesied fourth member to join their group.

That’s when Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) comes to town, dragging 17 years worth of unspecified emotional baggage behind her. She too has the power to levitate tiny things and look great in designer mini skirts, so she (reluctantly) joins the team. Having four members makes the girls much more powerful, to the point where they discover the ability to cast actual useful spells for selfish ends. Sarah takes revenge on an insensitive jock. Bonnie tries to heal her scars. Rochelle looks to get even with said bitch classmate. And Nancy, who is obviously completely insane, sets her sights on something that couldn’t possibly end up having major ramifications later in the movie yet oddly, it totally does. Sarah is the only one who questions what they’ve become, and seeks the help of a local mystic to try and bring her friends around before things go too far.

The problem is that early on the film asks you to make more of an investment in its characters than such a clumsy story really requires. It's not that there isn't something to be mined from the premise. Juxtaposing the teen experience with fantasy is an endless wellspring of material. I guess I just find it disappointing that there was an opportunity to do something truly memorable here and The Craft sort of drops the ball. It could have been clever and edgy like Buffy the TV show; instead it's a cool idea that needs a lot more polish, like Buffy the Movie. There's a lot of potential heart, humor and horror in this story but neither Fleming nor writer Peter Falardi (Flatliners) really connects with any of it. Halfway through the story, The Craft dispenses with any pretense of depth and reduces the narrative to slasher movie grade, and its characters to sidewalk chalk art.

I really hate to have to say all this, but I'm calling it like I see it. Neve Campbell was the Zooey Deschanel of her time, although fellow up-and-comer Balk is the only cast member to really inhabit her role. That and a kick ass soundtrack are too much of a head start not to aspire to anything more. It's not that The Craft doesn't work as an underage Whitesnake video/ABC Movie of the Week. Aside from a really weak third act, there are some memorable moments, great music and surprisingly still decent visual effects. The Craft is still decent, trashy fun. But outside its native zeitgeist, this is just a episode of Beverly Hills 90210 where everybody’s kind of boring and just barely has psychokinetic powers. Which reminds me - a TV version of The Craft is still begging to be made. It could work.
Call me, JJ. We still need to talk about that last Star Trek movie anyway.

So if you’ve got some popcorn you need to use before it goes stale, and have couple of hours with nothing to do, it’s raining outside and you are confined to a wheelchair, The Craft might be a worthy diversion. But if you’re looking for more, it might be better left in the time capsule with all the pogs, flannel shirts, swing dance lessons, Rachel haircuts and other relics of the 1990s.