Films like The Craft are among my least favorite to review. They are films that are neither good nor bad, but are so wrought with inconsistency that watching them becomes a chore. The Craft features some good ideas (I still feel that the concept of witchcraft applied to a modern society is underutilized – and the first person to mention Hocus Pocus gets slapped) and a genuinely gleeful performance from Fairuza Balk. But the script goes nowhere and the film seems almost afraid to explore its own themes about womanhood. In trying to dumb itself down for the masses, it virtually wrote its own death certificate.
The fact that this is becoming the norm is heartbreaking. Why be afraid of good ideas?
The film follows Sarah (Robin Tunney), a suicidal teenaged girl who has just moved. She attends a new school and forms a friendship with a group of girls rumored to be witches. They are Bonnie (Neve Campbell) who is withdrawn due to scars on her back, Nancy (Balk) who comes from an abusive home life, and Rochelle (Rachel True) who has to deal with racist bullies. They see Sarah practicing witchcraft and want her to join the coven to make them all-powerful. Sarah agrees and the girls start taking revenge on people who have wronged them. Trouble is, their spells start to go hideously wrong. Sarah wants to leave the coven, but Nancy is enjoying her powers too much and starts to become dangerous to Sarah and everyone she loves.
Well, on paper, its seems as though this film would have everything – themes of adulthood and maturity, female empowerment, the dangers of clique mentality, and guilt. The Craft even acts like it is going to tackle some of those things in its run time. Sarah’s mother died in childbirth (you don’t have to be Freud to examine that one) and each of the girls use their powers to solve petty problems (one casts a love spell, the other humiliates her bully, etc.) The elements are present and, watching the first act, I thought I would get a decent witch movie.
Oh well. By the end, it has become a middling action picture, with poorly thought out scenes and a climax so ludicrous (it involves one of the characters being hit by lightning and becoming more evil) that it taxes the viewer to the point of poverty. As I said, the film feels the need to dumb itself down. That means that any witchcraft shown pretty much just involves a few recitations and some levitating. Where does this power come from? In this universe, is it commonly harvested? What happens when certain spells are said incorrectly? The film never says. The witches do feel some remorse about their actions, which is fine, but doesn’t really answer any questions about their nature. When you are buying books about Satan worship, remorse may seem like the last thing on one’s mind.
Besides, as I stated above, only one actress seems like she is having any fun with the material. I have always liked Balk. She has definitely been underutilized in her career. Check out Almost Famous is you don’t believe me. In all of her films that I have seen, she projects a sort of confidence and strength that many other actresses would have to fight for. For Nancy, Balk even manages to bring about a sinister edge that is missing from the other characters. Is it over the top at times? Sure, but it usually helped the material rather than hinder it. If the film had approached her energy levels, it may have been a memorable horror film.
If only the film took more pointers from Balk. It could have made a great horror film. As it stands, Balk is the one bright spot that ends up making a bad movie seem pretentious. I think Hollywood may be afraid of witches because it would require them to write strong female characters and actually deal with their emotions. Very few screenwriters can pull this task off. It’s apparently better to just dress the women in goth make up and have them recite Latin then help audiences understand how they got to that point.