The Craft
directed by Andrew Fleming
(Columbia Tristar, 1996)

It is only natural for teenagers to fantasize about all the things they would do if they only had the power, so this exploration of magical manifestations, centering on a group of social outcasts, and the consequences thereof should appeal to some degree to most people. Young people do some nasty things to one another, and the powerful urge to retaliate for such acts can be hard to resist, yet the consequences of such acts of return unkindness can bear a cost even higher than the suffering that preceded them.

The Craft demonstrates this principle in rather exaggerated terms. I'm not saying there is really a moral teaching imbedded in the core of the film, though; the movie does not strike me as being anything more than just good entertainment. The plot seems to have a few potholes in the road, the acting varies in quality from time to time, and what the special effects lack in realism they make up for in sheer volume, but The Craft has a mysterious dark charm about it that makes it a worthwhile movie experience.

The action revolves around a modern-day coven of young witches. Three high school outcasts practice witchcraft but struggle to attain the types of results they seek; they need a fourth member of the coven. That role is fulfilled by the new girl in town, Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney). Sarah seems to be a fairly normal high school student, yet we soon learn that she has a history of making things happen around her when she is upset; this problem had led to one suicide attempt in the past. The three resident weird girls at school soon recognize Sarah's inherent magical abilities and bring her into their circle.

The leader of the group is Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk), a tough but unstable girl who exudes attitude from every pore. She has a much deeper interest in the uses of magic than her "sisters" Rochelle (Rachel True) and Bonnie (Neve Campbell), and the fact that Sarah seems to have more in the way of magical potential than she does gnaws away at her over time.

After first succeeding at a few parlor-trick types of magic, the girls put their powers to more serious use. Bonnie asks for the scars she was born with to be removed, Rochelle wants payback against a cruel, racist girl at school and Sarah wants the creep of a guy she likes to fall in love with her. Nancy has larger ambitions, invoking the spirit of Manol and all his powers. Their spells begin to work, and then they keep on working a little too well, leading to some pretty significant internal troubles for the coven. I should note here that those of you who really, really hate critters might want to stay away from this movie, for huge numbers of snakes, rats, scorpions, maggots and other equally disgusting creatures appear.

I originally wanted to see this movie because Neve Campbell was in it, but her character and performance seem to lack something here. Only two characters really, really matter in The Craft: Nancy and Sarah. I love Fairuza Balk, and I can think of no young actress more suited to play the role of the slightly evil, megalomaniacal Nancy. She has no trouble whatsoever looking the part of a dangerous witch. I like Robin Tunney as well, but it seems like she forgets how to act every so often. Somebody also seemed to forget to add a page here and there to the script because there are a couple of things mentioned that I knew nothing about, the actions of Bonnie and Rochelle in the final stages makes little sense to me in the context of what came before, and a few incidents and characters seem to have some importance attached to them yet come and go without any further mention.

The Craft barely sticks its toes in the waters of horror a time or two without ever jumping in and immersing itself in the darkness, so I would not consider it a horror movie at all. Aside from all the creepy crawlers that show up, there's really nothing else along those lines to be found here. In a way, I think of this entertaining film as a very, very quirky after-school special sort of motion picture.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 30 July 2005

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