On The Craft

The Craft is one of those films I have seen dozens, and dozens, of times. Certainly, I like some aspects of it, but some are still questionable, such as yet more women with mystical powers, and Rochelle is a Token Minority. According to We are the Weirdos, Mister: Revisiting The Craft:

The Craft is about a group of four southern California girls who are witches. Three of them practiced witchcraft together before the new girl, Sarah (Robin Tunney), came to town. After observing her natural magical powers, they ask her to join their coven. The four of them are able to do real and big magic together, until Nancy (Fairuza Balk), the group’s leader, becomes too power-hungry and squares off against Sarah in a battle of the witches.

I’d seen other teen movies like She’s All That and Never Been Kissed before I saw The Craft–they were staples at sleepovers, along with Grease. And all of them told me the same things. If you’re weird, you’re never going to get a boyfriend. If you’re weird and smart, what you truly and secretly want is to be popular and pretty.

The Craft is different. There isn’t a boy who falls in love with the weird girl and makes her want to change–Sarah casts a love spell on a boy and when it works, she realizes she doesn’t actually want him at all. No one undergoes a makeover that makes the whole school see that underneath the glasses, the weird girl is actually beautiful. This is a movie about misfits who are always misfits. They don’t get the boy and they don’t get popularity because it’s not about the boy or being popular.

Each of the witches in The Craft has something personal that she’s struggling with. Though these struggles aren’t the focus of the film, they’re not simple problems. Bonnie was burned badly as a child and has scars covering most of her back that she is ashamed of. Rochelle is the subject of bullying and racism on her swim team. Nancy attends a fancy, private school with all the other girls, but she lives in a trailer park with an alcoholic mother and her abusive boyfriend. Sarah is recovering from depression and a suicide attempt, all while starting at a new high school. In another movie, each of these would be worthy of a central plot. But in The Craft they’re all thrown together, background to a larger story about rebellion and empowerment.

Like many young girls, I didn’t feel a lot of power over my life or over growing up. That wasn’t something I could have articulated if you’d asked me, but it’s true. I loved The Craft from the first time I saw it. There was something to seeing girls just like me have power. Not just power over boys, the way some teen movies try to frame power, but actual power to change things. In a world where girls are told they have to change to get what they want–the boy, being pretty, being popular–here were girls changing the world around them to make it more like what they wanted.

The witches of The Craft are weird. They’re misfits and outsiders. And not one of them seems to care. Narratives about young outsiders are mostly male-centric–there are a lot more Holden Caulfields in literature, film, and music than there are Esther Greenwoods. Growing up is hard–and teens turn to pop culture to find narratives that resonate with them to give them a map for how to do it. Young female characters often aren’t given the same freedoms that young male characters are–to explore, to be outsiders who don’t want to come in, to crave something perhaps darker and more subversive than the status quo. The Craft gives its young women room to be different.

Witches are currently having something of a pop culture moment –which I couldn’t be happier about–and movies like Carrie are showing us again what’s exciting about seeing women and girls with power. The young women in films like Carrie and The Craft are allowed outside of socially accepted boundaries because they’ve forced their own way there.

This summer I was with a childhood friend. “Do you remember that weird movie you made me watch? About witches?” she asked me. Of course I do. I showed it to my friends often, hoping they would see what I saw in it. I even did it in college. I wanted to show it to another girl and have her look at me with recognition. I wanted us to share the power together.

There’s a scene in The Craft in which the four girls go on a bus ride into the countryside to cast some spells. As they get off the bus, the bus driver tells them, “You girls watch out for those weirdos.” Nancy answers, “We are the weirdos, mister.” It’s my favorite moment in the movie because it encapsulates everything that’s special about it: the brave rebellion of a group of misfit girls trying to make a world that suits them instead of molding themselves to suit the world, and the empowerment that comes along with it–even if it is just magic.

But, unfortunately, just like in Miss Congeniality and Legally Blonde, feminism is still “antagonistic towards other women” in the battle between Nancy Downs and Sarah Bailey: Women, like Nancy, who desire power and achieve it, will envitably go after other women (and men). Additionally, when Nancy uses a glamour to look like Sarah, and seduce Chris, before killing him, she is an Evil Demon Seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s #4) during this scene.

According to The New York Times:

Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. That cautionary cliche is reiterated with such bludgeoning insistency in “The Craft,” an entertainingly cheesy thriller about a coven of teen-age witches, that the movie ends up turning against itself. Halfway into what starts out as a celebration of adolescent nonconformity and female independence, “The Craft” reverses its attitude and makes the spells cast by its four teen-age witches come back to haunt them. In its final half hour, the movie preaches a heavy-handed sermon about karma and the awful things that can happen to bad girls who dare to vent their evil thoughts.

Until it turns prim, this teen-age allegory, spun from a genre inaugurated 20 years ago by “Carrie,” perks along nicely. When Sarah (Robin Tunney), a beautiful but sullen teen-ager enters a parochial high school in the Los Angeles suburbs, she is recruited as the fourth member of a coven whose three founding members are nicknamed “the bitches of Eastwick” by their hostile classmates.

Nancy (Fairuza Balk), the group leader, is a promiscuous daredevil who lives in a shack with her drunken mother and abusive stepfather. Bonnie (Neve Campbell) is traumatized by burn scars that cover half her back. Rochelle (Rachel True), who is black, stings from racial insults hurled by blond, snooty Laura (Christine Taylor), the most popular girl in school.

Sarah, having inherited her occult talents from a mother who died while giving birth to her, turns out to be the quartet’s psychic linchpin and resident sage. With her added clout, the coven masters the arts of levitation and something called “the glamour effect,” which enables them to morph illusory hair extensions and other cosmetic wonders onto their bodies.

At first, revenge is sweet. Sarah makes Chris (Skeet Ulrich), the high school Don Juan who ruined her reputation, fall in love with her. Nancy rids herself of her evil stepfather and with the insurance money moves with her mother into a glitzy apartment whose centerpiece is a jukebox stacked with Connie Francis records. Bonnie cures her skin condition, and Rochelle makes Laura’s hair fall out.

But in the karmic universe of “The Craft,” supernatural powers come with a stiff price, especially when they are used to destroy others. When Sarah advises restraint and forgiveness, her fellow witches, carried away with their abilities, turn against her. It isn’t long before Sarah finds herself wading in snakes and bugs as she tries to fight off her former friends’ destructive magic.

All things considered, “The Craft,” directed by Andrew Fleming from a screenplay by Peter Filardi and Mr. Fleming, is a surprisingly skittish fable of adolescent powerlessness, grandiosity and the nursing of psychic wounds. As the witchcraft escalates, the movie exchanges its psychological acuity for garish special effects that hammer home a ponderous warning to once and future witches: be good or else.


4 thoughts on “On The Craft

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