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Review: Cauldron of teen feelings spills over in spotty 'The Craft: Legacy'

Update on 1996's "The Craft" suits our time but needs more time to develop

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A coven of teenage witches brew up some heavy melodrama in "The Craft: Legacy," an earnest but uneven update on the 1996 original that sets out to course correct its subject matter's tropes for the era of wokeness. 

Writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones takes her subject matter seriously and has her crew wrestle with some rather weighty teen issues. But it feels rushed and its best intentions are sidelined by a need to wrap things up quickly, which makes this "Craft" feel cursed. 

Zoey Luna, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone and Cailee Spaeny in "The Craft: Legacy."

Lily (Cailee Spaeny) is the new girl in town, after her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan) moves in with her new boyfriend Adam (David Duchovny) and his three teenage sons. Lily's first day at her new school is ruined when she's paid an unexpected visit by a certain monthly guest, and she's teased mercilessly by frat-boy-jerk-in-training Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine). 

Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Lourdes (Zoey Luna) and Tabby (Lovie Simone) are there to help. They're a trio of witches who've long been looking for a fourth to join their ranks, and they think Lily might have what it takes. After a practice spell yields them the ability to freeze-frame time, they're well on their way to harnessing their powers — and using them for good, to make the world a better place.

At least that's their intention. They whip up a spell — ala-kazam! — and make Timmy sensitive, caring, in touch with his feelings and able to deeply opine about progressive pop music. (Galitzine, for his part, is convincing as both the tormentor and the wokester.) They take another bully in school and with the wave of a finger — poof! — they dress him in a Pride flag. 

Things take a turn for the worse for the group, however, after one of their subjects takes his own life. Did their meddling play a part, and how can they handle the responsibility of their powers? 

From there, however, the film's careful pacing jumps on the expressway toward a hasty conclusion that betrays the sensitive underpinnings of the material in favor of a dumb, climactic battle scene where everyone gets to use their newfound powers, like the "X-Men" working out their skills in the practice facility. And any legacy this "Craft" was building of its own quickly dissipates.  

It's too bad, because the material is there for a deeper dive into this world. "The Craft: Legacy" is probably better suited to a run as a Netflix series, which would allow Lister-Jones to dive deeper into the world of her characters. As is, we get to know Lily, but the others (including Lourdes, who is trans) are barely there past their names and hairstyle. And the legacy of their powers, as it were, is barely even hinted at. 

Lister-Jones does do an effective job of tapping into genuine feelings of teenage anxiety, angst, displacement, romance and friendship — all against the backdrop of a teen horror update, which isn't easy — but her efforts are thwarted by the last-act need to put a bow on everything. What doesn't work in 90-odd minutes would fare better laid bare in an eight-episode series. Gee, where's that spell when you need it? 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'The Craft: Legacy'

GRADE: C+

Rated PG-13: for thematic elements, crude and sexual content, language and brief drug material

Running time: 97 minutes

Available On Demand