The Craft: Legacy, written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, is a soft-reboot of Andrew Fleming’s eponymous 1996 cult classic—a supernatural horror and coming-of-age drama that defined an entire generation of goths and alt-girls. It is also the latest in a series of remakes and reboots of iconic twentieth-century horror films by Blumhouse Productions, but it appears to have taken more notes from the universally panned Black Christmas reboot of last year than the widely successful and acclaimed Halloween and Invisible Man reboots. Like Black Christmas, Legacy is a direct byproduct of the commodification and subsequent obfuscation of social justice activism. Well-intentioned but shallow, it is basically the film equivalent of those pastel infographics that you skip through whenever your distant acquaintances from junior high share them on their Instagram stories to show everyone just how “woke” they are. Quite frankly, to say it pales in comparison to its predecessor would be an understatement.
Legacy’s central narrative revolves around four teenage witches—Lily (Cailee Spaeny), Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone), and Lourdes (Zoey Luna)—who use their newly-awakened powers to transform resident misogynist Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) into an outspoken advocate for universal equality. Suddenly, the stereotypical bro becomes a LaCroix-drinking, Princess Nokia-listening feminist who sprinkles terminology like “heteronormativity” and “cisgendered” into his everyday conversations and educates his hypermasculine classmates on the importance of trigger warnings and sexual consent. When, out of nowhere, Timmy mysteriously dies, the witches blame the irresponsible actions of one particular witch in their coven who became too enamored with him. However, in actuality, there are much more sinister forces at play than just foolish adolescent lust, and his untimely demise was merely the catalyst in a chain of events that would reveal to the girls that not everyone can be trusted.
Ultimately, Legacy’s main downfall is its weak and occasionally awkward attempts at being current and relatable with the youth. Lingo that at this point is a few years outdated is forcibly inserted into conversations, resulting in a handful of cringe-inducing interactions between characters. One scene that stands out in particular involves Frankie declaring herself a “Twilight stan,” comparing Lily to Edward Cullen, and exclaiming that she wants to use her magic to shapeshift into Kristen Stewart. Huh? Additionally, witchcraft itself is depicted in a watered down, aestheticized form that does not pack the punch one would expect from a film marketed as horror. After the girls discover their powers, there is a short, music video-esque montage where they read each other’s auras, bathe in sparkling bathwater, and play “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.” It is strategically designed to appeal to the Tumblr kids who downloaded an astrology app, bought a $12.99 tarot deck from Urban Outfitters, and started calling themselves witches. It definitely does not help that the characters themselves look as though they were styled by someone who raided their local H&M and then watched a Youtube video entitled “How to Dress Like a Euphoria Character on a Budget” in order to piece the garish, mismatched outfits together. Lister-Jones wants to show audiences that she knows what today’s teens are like, but it very clearly comes across like an adult trying to connect with a member of a younger generation and refusing to admit that they do not have any common interests to bond over.
Beneath the nauseatingly current references and tacky aesthetics is a film actually containing mildly profound messages pertaining to topics such as gender identity, sexuality, and traditional notions of femininity and masculinity. However, because Legacy is so focused on appearing as youthful and in-the-know as possible, these political messages are pushed aside and presented as surface-level snippets of something greater. Lourdes, a trans Latina, frequently finds herself having to remind her fellow witches that not all women are able to do such things as menstruate or bear children. This is an undeniably important conversation that must be had, but Lister-Jones does not probe any deeper into the complexities of gender beyond throwing these lines in as brief asides that could very easily go unnoticed. Later on, bewitched love interest Timmy confesses to the girls that he is bisexual, and for a moment, it appears as though Lister-Jones is going to use this as an opportunity to explore the nuances of queer identity and why witchcraft may appeal to individuals who have been ostracized by society. Instead, she does the exact opposite, abandoning his storyline nearly altogether after this scene. To be fair, character development in general is not exactly Legacy’s strong suit. Little is known about any of the characters other than Lily, the primary protagonist. It is never explained how or why any of the girls initially got into witchcraft—a subtle detail that would, as proven by its predecessor, actually reveal quite a lot about who these characters are. Through this plot device, The Craft was able to breathe life into its characters while cleverly and effectively addressing topics like racism, domestic abuse, mental illness, and body image. Meanwhile, Legacy never fully explores the personal lives and individual motives of the characters and instead uses their identities as accessories in an effort to satisfy some kind of superficial diversity quota.
While its lofty ambitions are admirable, The Craft: Legacy is simply trying to squeeze too much into its 94-minute runtime. Even though Legacy deliberately sets out to be political, the original, now over two decades old, still does a superior job at communicating almost the exact same messages through its subtlety, its ability to say so much with so little. Above all else, The Craft aimed to be an entertaining horror film; the rest—its nuanced discussions of complex themes and subsequent timeless relatability—then came naturally. Legacy is trying to say so much that it ends up saying nothing at all, and to make matters worse, its attempts at appealing to a younger generation are haphazard at best. It feels unsure of itself and incomplete. Perhaps Legacy would have worked better as a television series, where characters and plotlines could be fully fleshed out over the course of several episodes. As it stands now, though, it is safe to say that Legacy will likely not be as important to this generation of self-proclaimed “weirdos” as its predecessor was to those of the ‘90s.