Monday, March 13, 2017

THE CRAFT (1996) - **1/2

Rated R for some terror and violence, and for brief language.
Running time: 101 min.
Release date: May 3, 1996

The moral of the story being told in The Craft appears to be "Be careful what you wish for" or even "absolute power corrupts absolutely". Four teenage girls, who happen to be witches, have the power to make themselves beautiful, or make teenage boys obsess over them, or get even with those that wrong them. They may be witches but they are still teenage girls and they have shallow teenage girl desires. Their goals are not much loftier than that, unfortunately. There are still repercussions to be had for what is deemed to be abuse of powers, however the story that slowly unfolds in The Craft doesn't really know when to break free from the silly teenage drama until it is much too late.

Robin Tunney plays Sarah Bailey, who has just moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco with her father and stepmother, her actual mother having died in childbirth. We see early on that Sarah is special, as she balances a pencil on its tip and makes it spin without even touching it. This is seen by classmate Bonnie (Neve Campbell), who tells her friends Nancy (Fairuza Balk) and Rochelle (Rachel True) that Sarah is the fourth that they have been waiting for. It turns out that the three girls are witches ("the Bitches of Eastwick" one classmate calls them) as they befriend Sarah and bring her into their circle. The girls believe they have the power to change things just by thinking about them, especially after Sarah has an encounter with a homeless man and his snake, who is suddenly hit by a vehicle in the middle of the street. Meanwhile, the girls each have their own individual teenage drama: Sarah goes out on a date with Chris (Skeet Ulrich) but after not succumbing to his advances, he spreads unflattering rumors about her; Bonnie has an image problem, mainly due to burn scars that she has on her body, and undergoes gene therapy; Rachel suffers racism from another girl with the unfortunate name of Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor); and Nancy and her mom live in a trailer with her abusive stepfather. They each cast spells to try and overcome their situations, with varying results. Eventually, all the girls begin to relish their powers and lust for more, except for Sarah, who attempts to keep the group grounded. Then after a horrible and unfortunate incident, the story shifts gears into the movie it should have been all along, that being a horror tale pitting witches against each other.

The story here is by Peter Filardi and co-written by Filardi and the director, Andrew Fleming. The screenplay does a good job of establishing the main characters and the various issues they each deal with. However, the story fails to build from scene to scene, giving the story a feeling that it is just meandering along for two-thirds of the film. Finally, in the last twenty to twenty-five minutes, things get interesting but by then it is too late. The Craft is pretty close to lifeless during scenes of teen angst and the girls walking around the city attempting to hone their skills. The climax almost feels like it comes out of nowhere because the build-up has been so uninteresting.

Fleming has a steady hand with the camera and a few of the scenes do a good job of providing atmosphere. The special effects are well done but do not provide enough pop to distract us from the wandering story. The cast is also very good, especially Fairuza Balk as Nancy. Her lust for more power drives her to murderous insanity, and Balk goes over-the-top in a performance that should not go unnoticed. Robin Tunney was a likeable lead, although the plot betrays her somewhat by having her character waste her time on an obvious jerk like Skeet Ulrich's Chris. Campbell and True are not given as much to work with but are able to give credible performances. The adults in the film are only around when the plot suits it and are mostly an afterthought, although Helen Shaver as Nancy's trailer-trash mother was the standout amongst the older members of the cast.

The Craft has plenty to like about it with a good cast, good use of special effects and a 90s alt-rock soundtrack. There is even a satisfactory conclusion to the story, however it doesn't mean much when the bulk of the time is spent on not even properly building to the climax. The meandering pacing and silly teen angst really bring this film down and it tries to recover, but falls short. Compare this to another more classic teen witch story like Carrie, where the teen drama was actually used to build to something so that each scene just put more fuel to the fire. The Craft wants to be part Beverly Hills 90210 and part Carrie but only succeeds in being pointless.

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