*WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS*
Directed and co-written by Andrew Fleming and Peter Filardi (who came up with the original story) The Craft is about four teen girls who use wiccan magic to improve their lot in life. This 1996 film was a sleeper hit. Something it has in common with the 1984 film The Karate Kid. Word of mouth after The Craft opened made it popular.
The four girls that the film centres around are all in high school and each one is a social outcast and misfit. Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to Los Angeles with a troubled past. She appears to naturally have magical powers of her own. When she starts at the local high school she meets three other girls who have taught themselves magic and have formed a coven.
The leader is gothy girl Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk) who comes from a severely dysfunctional family unit. The other two members of this small coven are Bonnie (Neve Campbell) who suffers from disfiguring burns and Rochelle (Rachel True) who appears to be the only black person in the school.
All three girls suffer mistreatment from their fellow classmates, especially Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor) who is the leader of the bullying faction. Sarah notices the high school hunk Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich) and he in turn notices her. After their one date together he ignores her and tells the entire school that they had sex. Sarah is furious.
Bonnie and Rochelle notice that Sarah seems to have some magical power and they talk Nancy into recruiting her into their coven. Because of Sarah’s latent power, the group’s magic becomes more powerful and the girls all do spells to improve their lives.
Bonnie heals her disfiguring scars. Rochelle casts a spell on Laura (her tormentor) that causes her hair to fall out. Nancy causes her abusive stepfather to die and she and her mother inherit a huge insurance payout. Sarah casts a love spell on Chris.
Everything seems to go well for a short while. But Nancy is enjoying her first taste of real magic and she forces the group to take part in a rite called the “Invocation of the Spirit” where they call on Manon a deity described as being more powerful than God. Nancy wants the power they’ve raised for herself. At the end of the ceremony she is struck by lightning and becomes incredibly powerful.
Things start to go wrong for the girls.
Chris tries to rape Sarah. Laura is found huddling in the floor sobbing because of her hair. Nancy decides to punish Chris for his attempted rape and kills him.
Sarah decides that she wants nothing more to do with the coven and the others of the group gang up against her. Nancy decides that if Sarah won’t rejoin the coven that she will kill her like she did Chris.
What none of the girls have bargained for is the fact that Sarah is the only real witch in the coven. Earlier in the film, Nancy takes the newly recruited Sarah into a magic store. The proprietor of the store focuses on Sarah telling her that she is extremely powerful in the world of magic and that she has inherited the gift from her mother.
When the final battle between Nancy and Sarah erupts, Sarah wins and the intensity of the magical bout drives Nancy insane. The end of the film finds Nancy strapped to a bed in a padded room, clearly out of her mind and Bonnie and Rochelle attempt a reconciliation with Sarah.
There are at least two interesting things to note about the film’s cast. Firstly, all the actors were well past their teen years but Rachel True was the oldest as she was almost 30 years old. Secondly this was the first time that Neve Campbell worked with Skeet Ulrich. They went on to work in Wes Craven‘s Scream. Ulrich was Neve’s love interest in Scream and in a case of history repeating itself, he played the same type of unpleasant character.
The Craft is a fantastic film that has aged quite well in the special effects department. The plot, dealing with the vagaries of high school and the misery that it can inflict on its inhabitants, is still relevant.
The vast majority of people who live through the fishbowl world of high school do not enjoy it. There are the few who excel in this micro environment, but they usually never replicate the success they enjoy as the leaders and charismatic magnets.
The Craft focuses on the losers and the misfits and their small taste of power. It is a brilliant look at how power, whether it is magical in origin or not, can change a person.
At the beginning of the film we can all relate to the little coven and their newest recruit. We are shown why their lives are so out of balance and unhappy. The strict Catholic high school world they inhabit does not have the latitude to help them out of their social “class” or their unhappy home lives.
Bonnie is shy and has no self-confidence because of the horrible scarring that covers so much of her body. When she is able, with the addition of Sarah’s real magic, to heal or cover her scars she changes. She turns into a narcissistic creature with no room in her life for anything else.
Nancy is pushy but socially inept. Because of her abusive and unhappy home life she will never be able to claw her way out of the life she seems doomed to lead. She has anger management problems and easily “rides herd” over the other two members of her coven. Once she has tasted life, again with the addition of Sarah’s real power, she becomes almost maniacal. The magic, for her, has never been about just improving her life but about punishing others.
Rochelle is sadly the only almost two dimensional character in the film. Oddly, she appears to be the only non-caucasian student in the entire school. Her tormentors are stereotypically racist, almost comically so, and it is the only part of the film that has not aged very well. We never see any of Rochelle’s home life to see why she is so bothered by Laura and her racially motivated verbal attacks and her lack of ability to deal with them.
Sarah, despite her troubled past, is clearly the most “normal” one of the group. She is an outsider, the newcomer who will have to find her place in the new school she has to attend. Her emotional burden is having to deal with the death of her mother and a stepmother who is in the unenviable position of having to fill her place. What Sarah has in common with the other girls is her lack of focus and her unhappiness. That she has magic is clear from the very beginning of the film.
Unlike the other girls though, Sarah has no ulterior motive or hidden agenda. Nancy’s true goal has been domination of her “fellow-man” and Bonnie and Rochelle are her friends mainly because of her rebellious nature and gothy magical leanings.
At the end of the film we see Bonnie and Rochelle’s attempt to get back with Sarah. That their motives are suspect is soon proved when Sarah rejects their advances and they walk off angrily. As they leave the girls begin to grumble that Sarah obviously doesn’t have any real magical talent and that they wasted their time. She gives them a taste of her still very powerful wiccan prowess and they leave silently.
All the actors involved in the film sell their characters. Fairuza Balk is scary as the pushy Wiccan goth chic. She never fails to convince that she is so tightly strung that she might snap. When she becomes almost unstoppable later in the film she goes from scary to terrifying. She does induce sympathy from the viewer, especially when we get a glimpse of her home life, but the feeling is replaced with fear when she shows just how power mad and vengeful her character is.
Robin Tunney did have a habit of appearing a bit lackadaisical in the acting department. I will admit it took me a bit of time to warm to her character. Even when she is fighting for her life at the end of the film, I felt her actions were just short of lethargic. She does manage to give her character a bit of umph at the very end though so I don’t want to sell her too short.
Neve Campbell’s performance suffered only because in my mind she will always be the fighter Sidney Prescott from Scream. Sorry Neve. But future boyfriend Skeet Ulrich was suitably nasty and love struck in turns.
This film with its theme of magic and teen angst is a must see. It is a definite two popcorn bag film and I highly recommend it.
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- Scream (canadiancinephile.com)
- Review: “Scream” (viewerscommentary.wordpress.com)
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