Movie Review: Witches lose their teeth in “The Craft: Legacy”

Let’s remake “The Craft” and rub all its hard, cruel edges off.

It’ll be “woke” and tolerant, righteous in its inclusion and opposition to those against those values. It just won’t be scary or have the “now they’ve gone too far” arc from good, clean witchcraft fun to violent and vengeful, betrayal and death.

Actress turned writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones (“Life in Pieces”) revives the franchise with a somewhat toothless thriller titled “The Craft: Legacy,” a reboot/sequel with empowerment messaging and sisterhood bonding, and too little of the stuff that made “The Craft” a cult favorite of generations.

In simpler terms, she’s giggly-girlied it up and sucked all the life out of it.

But this “Legacy” has a promising start. Three high school girls (Zoey Luna, Lovie Simone, Gideon Adlon) have discovered their “power,” and have taken a dive into the occult, via candlelit ceremonies and incantations delivered in a circle.

But this “magic circle” is like a compass rose. It lacks a “west.” They find her when Lily (Cailee Spaeny of “On the Basis of Sex” and “Bad Times at the El Royale”) becomes the New Girl in School.

Pixie-haired Lily may wear a witchy necklace and see a snake walking up to the house of her mom’s (Michelle Monaghan) new love. But she’s got no clue as to what’s she’s capable of.

She starts to find out when Frankie, Lou and Lisa offer their support after a teenage girl’s mid-class menstrual moment becomes the bullies’ excuse to shame her.

This is Lister-Jones’ best scene, a moment of hurt and embarrassment turned into a rite of “sisterhood.” When they realize that Lily’s “special,” they invite her in, and she accepts in a flash — the new friends, the rituals, the super-naturalism.

She must have seen “Charmed” reruns or something.

The early bonding scenes, with the girls going on about the “stages” of witchcraft mastery that they have to go through, with Frankie (Adlon) enthusing about shape-shifting into “K-Stew” from “Twilight,” play as giddy, jokey fun.

“You shouldn’t run from your power,” Lily is advised, somberly. “NONE of us should.”

But let’s “take our coven for a TEST drive!”

The girls “reform” (neuter) via a curse, the school bully (Nicholas Galitzine) and avail themselves of their powers in class and in the cafeteria. But nothing really gets out of hand. Any “infighting” seems pre-ordained by a screenwriting formula, not organic or a natural product of the changing power dynamics of the coven.

One interesting conflict is set up. Lily’s new “dad” is some sort of Men’s Movement thinker/author. Casting David Duchovny as a sort of rival “cult” leader, with his three teen sons amounting to the lab rats in his experiment in “Hallowed Masculinity” is clever, but doesn’t pay off on the screen as well as its reads on the page.

Lister-Jones loses herself in high school romance, teen clique dynamics and riffing on high school “types” and rites of passage. The biggest laugh in the picture might mean the Sex Ed film the kids sit through, to hoots and catcalls from the obnoxious and immature boys.

“‘Yes’ and only ‘yes’ means ‘yes!'”

Lister-Jones hasn’t utterly ruined “The Craft,” and thanks mostly to the cast and the chemistry they build via weary “makeover” and “circle in the woods” scenes, it has its charms.

But stripping it of its cruelty, sense of grievance and teen-impulsive passion for violent revenge rubs off too much of what made the first film work from this “sequel.” And no cameo from the first film can atone for that.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, crude and sexual content, language and brief drug material

Cast: Cailee Spaeny, Zoey Luna, Lovie Simone, Gideon Adlon, Nicholas Galitzine, Michelle Monaghan and David Duchovny

Credits: Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, based on Peter Filardi’s script “The Craft.” A Sony release.

Running time: 1:34

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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