Darke Reviews | The Craft (1996)


Once again we go to the way back machine, moving to 17 lovely years ago. This movie made my own belief system mainstream as I had been practicing for years. Granted I had never seen anything like what they pulled off, nor is it possible but hey a girl can dream about changing her hair colour by will alone. Would save so much on product!! I do remember convincing most of my drama club a few years before to try Light as a Feather Stiff as a board and alas we did not have the same success – go figure. The movie of course is The Craft, with one of the more successful mainstream witch movies ever released – that has actual witches in it. I find an interesting challenge to get into the details of this film as many of the cast and technicals have long since vanished into obscurity, but here we go.

The director is Andrew Fleming, who has had only a handful of directorial projects since; such as Hamlet 2 and a handful of TV show episodes. I will say that there are some performances he coaxes out of his actors in the film that are fascinating if not somewhat disturbing.

Fleming of course is given a script, that he has a credit on, by Peter Filardi, who has also vanished from the film making world. He did however provide us the Brat Pack hit Flatliners and the woefully underrated (and more faithful) remake of Salems Lot. He has a clear love of the horror genre which makes some of his decisions in this films writing curious at best. While much of the dialogue and scenes work there are more than a few moments that if you stop and think about for even a moment give you significant pause and questioning of motivation and character understanding.

The story focuses on Sarah (Robin Tunney – Empire Records, The Mentalist) a girl moving to LA with her father and step mother to start a new life for reasons we never have, or need, explained. She finds and quickly befriends three outcasts at the school who are rumored to be witches – Nancy (Fairuza Balk – The Waterboy, Return to Oz), Bonnie (Neve Campbell – Scream series, Party of 5), and Rochelle (Rachel True). It turns out the rumors are true and with the very presence of Sarah they are finally able to work “real magic”. As they explore their new found powers some of the girls lose their way while Sarah just begins to lose herself. The end result is a fascinating climax as the meek Sarah becomes something new by facing her own fears and demons.

While watching the film tonight, there was interesting conversation about how Skeet Ulrich’s Chris is actually scarier than the finale’s half crazed Nancy. I am inclined to agree. While Nancy herself has clearly lost it, there’s something naturally predatory about Chris that was always there. He’s a real monster that exists beyond the silver screen and to me and my friend that makes him truly scary. Balk’s Nancy has an interesting arc, possibly the most complete one in the film, as she goes from an angry lost soul to a girl who finds something to cling to and people to cling to that in the end simply becomes lost in her own rage. For those familiar with Mage the Ascension, this is a perfect Nephandi arc. You can actually watch her change from someone who clearly is pained by what happens to her friends and whom’s very life is pain to a broken killer. It’s safe to say Balk’s performance is the most memorable in its broken insanity and transition.

Sarah’s arc is a little less obvious where the only thing she finds is her own confidence. Honestly, with a few exceptions of emotions and scenes Tunney’s performance is about as flat as any of Kristen Stewarts. She delivers her lines with a lack of passion that’s disappointing most of the time, but unlike Stewart emotes enough to show she understands the implications of the scene. As a bit of trivia, the entire movie she wears as a wig as she had just completed Empire Records where she shaved her head.

Bonnie and Rochelle are a problem for me. While aspects of their performances are very solid; Campbell’s pulling in on herself prior to the magic and then new confidence after and True’s regret at the pain she causes another, they are also missing something. During one scene Sarah calls them out on behaviors that are changing and when the girls turn on Sarah its very sudden. There was not enough build up or interaction shown to help me understand why they changed so much so quickly. Nancy (Balk) sure, but the other two seem completely off in how their behaviors change towards Sarah. Even through to the very end they are off and make no sense. Each performance is good and believable but they just are so wildly juxtaposed to what you see on screen it is difficult to put together.

The technical aspects of this movie are well done for 1996. Only one or two are particularly weak (hair color) while others are so nicely done you almost done notice them (Mirror effect w/ Rochelle). It’s worth mentioning the beach sequence during the ritual is lacking in some of the effects as nature decided to provide her own. That area of beach is known for being paranaturally active and it from a superstition standpoint seemed to be aware of the nature of the film. The tide you see coming in around the circle was real and concerning for the cast and crew; as was the wind and sudden storms that kept happening. As another technical aspect, the character of Lirio is played by real life witch Assumpta Serna who was the consultant for the movie that kept it at least somewhat respectful of elements to the craft.

I feel the need to point out that this movie came out in 1996 – with an uncredited appearance by Holly Marie Combs. Don’t know her? 2 years later she starred in an 8 season long show called Charmed. Why do I bring this up? Because when Charmed came out it featured an introduction that is the same as the Craft with a flying through clouds, blue skies, the same font AND a song from the movie The Craft as it’s theme song (Morriseys How Soon is Now performed by Love Spit Love). Now I’m not saying the makers of Charmed entirely ripped off the Craft, but…

TL;DR time?

The Craft 17 years later is still an entertaining movie. While closer to the horror genre than other witch movies of late, it is still firmly in the Young Adult realm. It’s quite watchable and a proud part of my collection.

I do have to recommend this movie for anyone who needs a witch fix.
Tomorrow’s review wonders how the maggots are.

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