August 21, 2007
The Craft (1996)
Since its origins in the "beach films" of the 50s and 60s, the so-called "teen film" genre has been the target of much criticism despite its constant popularity among the audiences. A lot of this comes from the notorious tendency of teen films to be nothing more than clichéd stories done to cash in the popularity of celebrities or fashionable trends, and sadly teen horror, source of most of the worst horror films ever made, is a main offender in this aspect. However, not every horror film aimed to teenagers is dumb, as there have been movies that actually use the conventions of its genre to actually make something interesting and creative with it. Brian De Palma's classic, "Carrie", is probably the best example of this, as it intelligently uses teenage angst as source of horror. While nowhere near De Palma's masterpiece, Andrew Fleming's "The Craft" walks on the same lines with relative success.
In "The Craft", Robin Tunney plays Sarah Bailey, a troubled teenage girl with suicidal tendencies who has recently moved with her family to Los Angeles in order to have a fresh start. In her new school, she meets Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True) and Nancy (Fairuza Balk), three outcast girls who have an interest in the occult and actually are practicing witches. Sarah is invited to join their group after Bonnie notices that Sarah seems to have the real supernatural powers of a natural witch, and after she joins them in their rituals, they discover that with her help they are able to achieve things beyond the normal witchcraft. With this real magical power, the four girls begin to solve their respective problems and everything seems to be perfect, until the ambition for more power overwhelm them, and they discover that everything has a price.
Based on a story by Peter Filardi, "The Craft" was written by director Andrew Fleming and Filardi himself. It is essentially a teen drama with a touch of supernatural horror that, while predictable in its storyline, feels fresh and original thanks to the interesting plot that Filardi creatively develops. What makes it interesting is the amount of research that the writers put on the screenplay, as they based the rituals the characters practice in real witchcraft practices that followers of nature-based religions perform (obviously with exaggerated results); and what's most important, the angle they take on the story is not meant to be disrespectful to followers of those religions, but presents it as a philosophy as valid as any other faith. Of course, it's hard to escape the clichés of teen dramas, but Filardi never fails to make the story entertaining thanks to a good amount of character development.
Director Andrew Fleming takes a very straight forward approach with "The Craft", following to the letter the typical conventions of the teen movie genre, with a dose comedy thrown to good effect, a very modern atmosphere and a polished visual look (courtesy of Alexander Gruszynski's cinematography) designed with the MTV generation in mind. While at first sight this may sound unoriginal, it actually adds to the film's charm, as the overall feeling that results as the horror elements begin to enter the story is one of a teen drama gone to the dark side. The special effects aren't really amazing but they work effectively and even today look pretty good and convincing. Fleming's directing of his cast is another of the elements that make the film good, as nearly everyone gives at least a good performance that helps the film in some way.
As written above, the performances by the cast are something that makes the movie to stand out, starting with Fairuza Balk, who as the lonely and angry Nancy becomes easily the best actress in the cast. Going over-the-top as her character gets more power, Balk makes a villain that is as delightfully insane as she is sympathetic. Robin Tunney is a effective as Sarah, but her performance feels kind of weak when compared to Balk and even Neve Campbell (the fact that as the hero, her character is probably the most clichéd doesn't help). In the supporting roles, Neve Campbell and Rachel True are very good, specially Campbell who despite the relatively small size of the role shows why she would be the one whose career would rise in the following decade. Skeet Ulrich and Christine Taylor also appear in supporting roles with good results, although Ulrich seems to have troubles with his role.
It would be easy to dismiss "The Craft" as just another teen horror film like the many weak movies the genre spawned in the late 90s, but even when it may not be a classic, "The Craft" has a lot going for it that makes it stand out among the rest. True, the story is predictable, disjointed at times, and truly loses some steam at the end; but the way Filardi plays with the moral conflicts between the characters as well as that of being an outcast and having magic powers is pretty interesting. That element together with the fact that it offers a different (and at the time fresh) view on witchcraft and nature-oriented religions makes "The Craft" an interesting and entertaining movie. Still, one has to remember that "The Craft" is first and foremost a supernatural teen drama, so anyone expecting a straight forward horror film will probably be disappointed.
Despite its many flaws, "The Craft" is definitely one of the best American horror movies of the 90s, showing a true understanding of the 90s pop culture and a disposition to play with both the horror and teen movie genres. Sadly, few horror films followed this movie's path and most of the rest of the teen horror movies for the MTV generation ended up having the worst qualities of the genre. It's not "Carrie" but still, "The Craft" is one of the good ones.
Buy "The Craft" (1996)