Ah, 90's nostalgia. It's all the rage. For people of my generation, who came of age at the tail end of that delightful decade and the early 2000's, there's something just magical about looking back on the years of our youth with a yearning and adoration. And this is definitely reflected in the modern day market for nostalgic properties- movies and shows that we grew up with have fallen back into vogue and are even starting to be remade or revived. Stories and characters that we had drifted from have re-emerged through memes, kitschy products and fancy re-releases. And cult-classics from back in the day are gaining growing audiences as we revisit them and share them with newer generations.
Which brings us to 1996's "The Craft," directed and co-written by Andrew Fleming. While it was a minor hit back during its initial release, it was quickly overtaken by the shows and movies that followed. Being one of the first major released in quite some time to use witchcraft and Wicca as a major theme and backdrop, it ushered in many imitators, some good and some bad, and it got lost in the shuffle for a time. But over the past few years, it's slowly re- emerged and gained back its audience, becoming a bonafide cult- classic for the nostalgic folks like me who grew up in that millennial generation. Why, you can barely scroll through any social media site these days without stumbling upon a "Craft" reference or photo, usually accompanied by a humorous quip or in-joke.
But this begs to question... Is "The Craft" really the underrated masterpiece that we so fondly remember it being? Or is it just the nostalgia talking? And honestly, it's hard to say. It's entertaining, no doubt. The cast is quite good. And it even boasts some very solid visual direction. And yet, it suffers a disjointed narrative and contrived scares that don't always hit home. It's a puzzling film to say the least. And yet, I couldn't help but completely enjoy it when I recently viewed it for the first time.
"The Craft" follows Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney), the new girl in town whose just moved in and enrolled at the local Catholic school. There, she forms a strange but genuine friendship with a trio of outcasts comprised of Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie (Neve Campbell) and Rochelle (Rachel True)- the resident goth-chicks whom are widely despised and derided by their more popular peers. Sarah quickly finds herself drawn into their unique world, discovering that the trio worship and practice witchcraft, and are in need of one more member to complete their circle. At first apprehensive, Sarah eventually joins in and is shocked to discover that magic is all too real, and that she had seemingly unknowingly possessed its powers for some time prior... But also learns that despite the good it can do, every choice will have unforeseen consequences. Consequences that may tear the lives of the four girls apart as they grow greedy and apathetic thanks to their new powers...
The thing I found most fascinating about the movie is the fact it does really hold your attention even when the film is plagued with some consistent and noticeable issues. And I attribute this mainly to the excellent cast and sharp direction. The four leads are a big key to making a film like this work, and all four feel perfect in their respective roles. I was particularly taken with Robin Tunney, who plays the most innocent of the four quite well and comes off as extremely likable and someone you can easily relate to. Campbell and True are both very good and play their roles very well. But special commendation definitely has to go to the very extremely talented and criminally under-recognized Fairuza Balk. She and Tunney more or less become the main focus on the film in its second half, and both play off of each other well, symbolizing the dangers of good things being taken to far.
I was also very impressed with the production that Fleming crafts for the story, and it's a wonderfully competent and admirable piece of work. His smooth, steady camera-work is slick and stylish and always compliments the scenes well and he's got a keen eye for composition. He also knows where to place focus in terms of narrative, and he organically lets scenes play out at a natural pace, with everyone given their moment to shine. Combined with the wonderful cinematography of Alexander Gruszynski and a score by the always reliable Graeme Revell, and you have the stage set perfectly for such a dark and sometimes surprisingly amusing tale.
Unfortunately, "The Craft" does falter and stumble on a very regular basis, and I really cannot ignore this fact. Although I do get the feeling it's more due to studio meddling and an over-eager editing team than due to Fleming. The pacing is a complete mess in the first two acts of the film, and I found myself often confused about things like motivation and intent. Heck, there was one or two early scenes where I lost track of the main characters because it was cut so tightly and they would seemingly appear and disappear from scenes. The attempts at genuine horror suffer from 90's "music video syndrome" and come off as laughable due to their blatancy instead of being chilling as they should be. And the narrative does rely a bit too much on audience good will and suspension of disbelief. It's just a bit... lazy at times.
But that can't change the fact that this is a very fun film and I do think that those who are curious about it should give it a chance. Top-notch direction and an infectiously charming cast make all the difference, and help to redeem the film almost entirely for the plot and pacing related shortcomings. I give "The Craft" a pretty good 7 out of 10.