The Craft suffers both from taking itself too seriously and not taking itself seriously enough. On one hand, it desires to be a smart teen horror comedy that successfully merges aspects of Clueless with supernatural frighteners of days past. But on the other, it wants to say a lot about the lives of teenagers, making such natural occurrences as betrayals and romantic envies rise up to near catch-the-metaphor-here! levels. Yet nothing ever clicks — it is neither intelligent nor inventive enough to wear barbed dialogue à la Heathers or work as social commentary like Carrie. It’s a soul sister of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, just without Joss Whedon or any form of wit to set itself apart from the mundanities of the less than average teen movie. Cool kids glorify it as one of the many reasons why the 1990s were and still are the seditious Hollywoodland of their dreams.
It’s a tragedy that the film eventually drowns in its own filth — its leading actresses are likable, convincing in roles that otherwise don’t designate them as much more than your everyday attractive-twenty-something-playing-a-teenager. It stars the effervescent Robin Tunney as Sarah Bailey, the new girl in town whose angst is a result of social rejection and quieted down supernatural abilities. Though beautiful and friendly, kids pick on her mercilessly, as if to remind us that being a movie teenager can be quite a bit harder than being a teenager in real life.
She quickly catches the eye of Chris (Skeet Ulrich), a cocky jock who flirts with a hidden agenda and who warns of the school’s “Bitches of Eastwick,” a trio of girls rumored to cast spells and spill potions in their free time. Despite their incessantly bitchy resting faces, clothing that suggests hidden arsenal, tendency to speak as if ready to spit on someone in the next breath, and fondness of hanging out in the bayous that Los Angeles can apparently pull out of its smoggy ass any given day, Sarah is inclined to become a member of their clique. As they all possess fantastical powers, it might be the closest thing she’s ever come to being a part of something.
And she’s right. Together, they are stronger than ever, and this prompts them to use their abilities to further their respective statuses, even though they’ve all known of their talents for years and could have easily made differences in their lives ages ago. The ringleader, Nancy (Fairuza Balk), causes her abusive stepfather to die of a heart attack, leaving her and her mother with sizable insurance money (a surprise, considering the dysfunctional family lives in a trailer). Introvert Bonnie (Neve Campbell), heals the burn scars that have kept her locked inside her social shell; the filler, Rochelle (Rachel True), who seems to exist for no other reason besides having to act as a punching bag for Nancy, casts a spell that makes her mortal enemy’s (Christine Taylor) hair fall out. For fun, a jilted Sarah wrecks Chris’s life with a love spell.
But things soon get out of hand, and Sarah, being the only person in the group not consistently coerced to act psychotically by the bombastic Nancy, accidentally pushes a button after lightly suggesting that it might be smart to, you know, chill, consider the effects their actions might have on other people. Most would be able to toy with such a suggestion, but it, for some reason, sends Nancy over the edge, entailing a long-winded, weird-ass, and exhaustively over-exaggerated revenge (?) against Sarah that changes their coven forever.
The Craft kicks off with promise, but begins to lose steam with such alarming speed that, by the time the ending rolls around, we can no longer ignore the six foot layer of cinematic dung that surrounds the actresses at its climax. It would have been better off had it taken a jokier tone and made witchcraft a subversive element to teen comedy, not a distracting focal point. By comparison, Sabrina the Teenage Witch seems sturdier — at least it knows what it’s going for.
But The Craft doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a horror comedy, a teen drama, a supernatural soap, a satire, or a critique on the hardships that befall female friendships in teenage society. It’s a cringe-worthy, sometimes frustrating, experience. But the actresses are good, and the premise works for about a half-hour or so. Andrew Fleming would redeem himself just three years later with the sensational Dick, and that should count for something. C-