The Craft

on May 03, 1996 by Christine James
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   This paranormal take on "Heathers" stars Robin Tunney as Sarah, an unhappy teen who is uprooted when her dad and step-mom relocate the family to Los Angeles. At her new school, Sarah's absent-mindeddisplay of telekinesis attracts the attention of three would-be witches. Each girl in the so-called coven has past issues which have drawn them to the dark arts: Bonnie (Neve Campbell)'s back is covered with severe burn scars from an unnamed childhood incident, and her disfigurement makes her feel monstrously unattractive; Rochelle's (Rachel True) confidence is undermined by cruel racist remarks from malicious schoolmates; and Nancy (Fairuza Balk)'s cliche boozy mom/lascivious step-dad/trailer home upbringing scenario has left her perilously angry. The alienated trio, it is implied, at some pointbanded together and turned to witchcraft in an attempt to obtain some sense of power over their own lives. Their efforts to date had all proved fruitless fantasy, but they detect in Sarah a natural proclivity for sorcery, and convince her to join their circle. Sarah, whose psychological traumas date all the way back to her birth when her mother died during delivery, is vulnerable and in need of a support system; against her better judgment, she accepts. At first, they bond just as any quartet of fun-loving teen girls might, engaging in frivolity-filled slumber parties, complete with TV ("Bewitched," of course), junk food, joking around, giggling and the like. But when their attentions turn to incantations--and thanks to Sarah's innate abilities, their spells actually work--power and megalomania begin to corrupt the girls and they start to lose their sense of morality.
   Sarah's head remains cool and she tries to keep everyone in control, but, as a wise new-age bookstore owner/mother figure named Lirio (Assumpta Serna) articulates, now that Sarah's opened the floodgate, the magic has to run its course. Lirio further warns that anything Sarah and her friends put out into the world, good or bad, they will get back "times three." Sarah finds herself battling her increasingly dangerous former friends while trying desperately to extricate herself from `The Craft.' However, she discovers that `The Craft,' used properly, is her only savior.
   While this supernatural thriller explores the desperation of outcast teens to find a way to fit in or feel important, it doesn't provide any realistic solutions, save for following the golden rule and drawing satisfaction from a belief in karmic law. But there is no repentance: once they've fallen, the bad stay bad, and no one except the already benevolent protagonist learns anything. One hex recipient seems to begin to get the idea but there isn't enough of a cause-and-effect revelation and subsequent contrition. Performances are fair to good; Balk is the standout as the Gothic-garbed, Joker-grinned, over-the-top, nuttily necromantic Nancy, but the husky-voiced Tunney, while satisfactory, is not compelling enough to carry off the purportedly formidable Sarah effectively. The special effects are impressive and intriguing, but they're used too sparingly; a montage of the girls experimenting with a wider variety of fun, harmless but visually dramatic spells building up to the darker, deadlier ones would have served the movie well. Overall, the film misses its target as a darkly comic thriller, but it is fun in places. Starring Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell and Rachel True. Directed by Andrew Fleming. Written by Peter Filardi and Andrew Fleming. Produced by Doug Wick. A Columbia release. Thriller. Rated Rfor some terror and violence, and for brief language. Running time: 99 min
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