The Craft

Tucson Weekly

DIRECTED BY: Andrew Fleming

REVIEWED: 05-09-96

TEEN MOVIES HAVE become a little more scarce since their heyday in the 1980s, but the tradition that brought us Rebel Without a Cause, Heathers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and now The Craft is still going strong. Teen movies are a comforting, predictable form of entertainment because they continually re-use the same set of basic elements: 1. The cute but slightly out-of-it new kid; 2. A group of stuck-up popular kids who engage in the occasional sadistic act with great relish; 3. A love story, usually between the new kid and a popular kid; 4. A fat, ugly or foreign kid who makes a friend or is transformed in the course of events, and; 5. An episode of teenage rough-housing that gets out of control, often resulting in the tragic death of a poorly-drawn secondary character.

The trick then, to making a teen movie seem fresh these days, is to put in something new, for God's sake. And boy, does The Craft ever labor under the effort to come up with something new. Ironically, it's in the very department of novelty that The Craft falls into the traps that make it contrived and distancing. When it does stick to the teen movie formula, The Craft actually manages to be an engaging story of that horrible microcosm of social life, high school.

The new kid, in this case, is Sarah (Robin Tunney), a nice girl with the power to move number two pencils with her mind. The high school is Catholic, and the kids wear uniforms, jewelry and, in the case of Nancy (Fairuza Balk), a whole lot of black eyeliner. Nancy and her two friends are rumored to be witches, and in no time at all they've adopted Sarah as the fourth and missing member of their coven. They're just wannabes compared to Sarah, who has the force at her disposal and channels power down to all of them. Before you know it, the little witches are casting spells that make the popular girls rue the day they made that snide comment in gym class.

The charming thing about the first part of the movie is that it has the ring of truth. Teenagers really do get into weird esoterica--whether Satanism or comic books or punk rock--especially anything that carries with it a hint of escape or power. All the girls in the coven have difficult lives, and it's easy to see why they would try to change their destiny and influence events out of their control. No one is being especially nice to them either (remember the sadistic popular kids) and so, when their spells start working, it's sort of great. Enough believable stuff is mixed in with the fantastic that it's not too hard to buy the fact that yes, these girls are witches. Okay!

Strong performances by the young actors and a reasonably good script and direction also contribute to making the first hour of this movie entertaining. Robin Tunney does a reasonable job as the good girl Sarah, but it's really Fairuza Balk, pouty and volatile as Nancy, the angry piece of trailer trash, who steals the show. Not only is she the better actor, her character, a mixture of vulnerability and evil, is just more complex and charismatic. It must be true: Bad girls are more interesting.

After a while though, she gets really bad, and that's when my interest in this movie began to drop off. Nancy goes from being a lost little girl to a full-fledged monster. Her witch powers swell, and apparently absolute power corrupts, etc., because once she gets a taste of the fun, all she wants is to destroy! Kill! It's from this late point on that The Craft attempts to inject something new into the teen movie genre, and what it does, basically is graft on a piece of a horror flick. Suddenly, there are elaborate, disgusting special effects, and the characters aren't acting like characters anymore. They're running around, screaming, fighting, and of course, slashing. I was willing to believe four disaffected teenage girls were witches, but I wasn't willing to believe some of them had suddenly become so stupid and nasty. Perhaps I know little of the ways of black magic. Still, it seemed the movie had abandoned its original direction and had begun to wallow in overkill for its own sake.

--Stacey Richter

Capsule Reviews
The Craft
The Craft

Other Films by Andrew Fleming

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