The Craft: Legacy isn't a traditional horror film

The Craft: Legacy (M, 94 minutes)

3 stars

There's a handful in days of yore that I can remember when a bad and trashy film would hit cinemas, and I could feel, like the film critic version of a water diviner, the iconic future cult film I knew it to be, despite its bad reviews and lack of audience.

The 1996 film The Craft was one of those films. Iconic, remembered, referenced, where much worthier films have passed into obscurity.

From left, Lourdes (Zoey Luna) Frankie (Gideon Adlon) Tabby (Lovie Simone) and Lily (Cailee Spaeny) in The Craft: Legacy. Picture: Supplied

From left, Lourdes (Zoey Luna) Frankie (Gideon Adlon) Tabby (Lovie Simone) and Lily (Cailee Spaeny) in The Craft: Legacy. Picture: Supplied

In it, a new girl moves into town and finds she is the missing jigsaw puzzle piece that completes a powerful coven of amateur witches, a power that they cannot control.

It begat dozens of imitators, not the least of which was the television series Charmed, which has itself now begat a reboot series.

And so, 23 years after the original The Craft, for some reason we're treated to this woke/#MeToo reboot, with a completely unsurprising surprise link to the original film.

It begins with the arrival into a green-lawned and pickett-fenced suburbia of a single mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan) and daughter Lily (Cailee Spaeny). We wonder how the gamine and kooky Lily is going to fit into her new high school when she's such an obvious misfit.

Any chance of popularity is torpedoed on her first day when she receives her period unexpectedly in class, as the boys sitting behind her announce to all who will listen.

If this were a Stephen King novel, we all know what would come next, but this is our modern era of woke sensibility and what instead happens is that Lily is rescued by and makes friends with Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Frankie (Gideon Adlon) and Tabby (Lovie Simone).

It is a surprise to these three that their new friend just happens to be the missing fourth to their magical trio, a West to their North, East and South. With Lily in their lives, their once marginal magical powers suddenly amp up to a 10. Each girl has a significant power based on the four elements and for Lily, that power allows her to stop time.

In one of the first tests they put their powers to, they work a spell on classmate Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), the result being his awareness of his awful misogyny and an about-face. When the spell on Timmy appears to have gone seriously wrong, it tests the girls' new friendship.

While it's hardly groundbreaking, I am surprised by the directions in which writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones takes her screenplay.

This isn't a traditional horror, and it plays with character tropes in ways befitting our modern era, where the female characters support each other, even when they're in moral disagreement. Perhaps it's because modern Wiccans have Willow Rosenberg to model themselves on.

Cailee Spaeny, notable from Bad Times at the El Royale, enjoys the bulk of the film's focus, to the detriment of her three witchy co-stars, whose characters are given almost no development.

The film's middle third is almost entirely given up to the romance between Lily and Timmy, with Galitzine given a dream block of dialogue and a refreshingly modern male role.

Lister-Jones keeps the structure from her source material but we're left guessing who her villain is going to be.

David Duchovny has an interesting role as mum Helen's love interest, a motivational speaker on the subject of modern masculinity. His role will feels spookily familiar for anyone who has invested time on HBO Max's sex cult doco The Vow or Stan's Seduced.

The chime-like score in the film's earlier scenes sit in the same set of notes as many of the ring tones on my phone, so what the filmmakers probably imagined as Zen sounds and harmonious drama-supporting tones had me reaching for my bag throughout, wondering why I'd forgotten to mute my phone.

Elsewhere, the music is punchy and modern, from artists including Princess Nokia, whom the characters reference in the film.

The film's final moments seem to set up a possible trilogy, which would be terrific, because of course, the power of three will set us free.

This story Witchy sequel has some surprises first appeared on The Canberra Times.