Starring: Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Assumpta Serna
Rated R for Some Violence and Terror, and for Brief Language
"The Craft" is your standard order 90's girl power movie. Nothing more, nothing less. Even with those unambitious goals, it's still not a very good movie. With pedestrian direction, a bland screenplay and an hour of no real conflict, it's hard to imagine that this became a cult hit.
Sarah Bailey (Tunney) is a high school student moving from Los Angeles to San Francisco with her parents. After being humiliated by Chris Hooker (Ulrich), the school stud, she falls in with Nancy (Balk), Bonnie (Campbell) and Rochelle (True), the school outcasts. Actually, it's the other way around. You see, the three girls are witches. Like, real ones. They sense that Sarah is a witch too and conspire for her to join them so they can be a quartet and become more powerful. Initially, the lonely Sarah enjoys the friendship and the power (such as getting Chris to like her). But when things go too far and people start dying, Sarah wants out. Of course, that's definitely not okay with the others.
This isn't an inherently bad idea for a movie. I doubt a good one could have been made from it, but solid b-movie entertainment isn't out of the question. But the movie takes itself too seriously for it to have much value in that department. It makes passes at drama and horror, but doesn't succeed as either. The screenplay is too weak and Andrew Fleming, whose resume does not inspire confidence (he directed "Hamlet 2" and "Dick," two would-be black comedies with teeth as sharp as the latest "Barbie" movie).
At least the performances are nice. Robin Tunney, an adorable and talented actress whose career never took off like it should have, is as lovely as ever, showing vulnerability and spunk. Fairuza Balk is perfectly cast as the goth witch Nancy. Actually, Balk is a Wiccan in real life, and was able to give the filmmakers advice for authenticity or direct them to those who could when she was unable. Balk is an exotic looking beauty, and her looks really enhance the impact of her character. At least until the screenplay has her go into full-on psycho bitch mode, at which point even she can't save the film from descending into self-parody. A pre-famous Neve Campbell and Rachel True are in fine form in the underwritten roles of the other girls.
The problem with this film is that it has virtually no plot until the very end, when it goes into slasher movie territory (only without the slashing). Watching the girls develop their talents and experiment with their powers has a certain entertainment value, but that stuff should have been covered within the first 20 minutes. The film kinda floats along waiting to get kicked into high gear, and when it does it does so with such suddenness and stupidity that it's impossible to take seriously. Characters undergo brain cramps and personality transplants, and the film's "rules" of how witchcraft works in this film are repeatedly broken. And they were never well-established to begin with.
The MPAA gave this film an R rating for "Some Violence and Terror, and for Brief Language." The filmmakers wanted a PG-13 rating, but the ratings board wasn't comfortable with "teenage witches." I guess a scene of attempted rape is fine but witchcraft isn't. But that's what I expect from the MPAA: hypocrisy and stupidity.