Friday, 22 February 2013

The Craft (1996)

I can't think of anything better than returning to a movie you loved as a kid and discovering it's still awesome now that you've grown up. That's exactly what happened when I re-watched The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996) for probably the first time since I was an angst-ridden fourteen-year-old. Way to go, littler me, for your superior taste in cinema when everyone around you was knee-deep in inferior offerings from that weird mid-90s witchcraft craze! The Craft is a feminist horror parable, a grand guignol Breakfast Club -- three quarters girl power, one quarter black magic -- and a decade and change later, it's still wickedly good.

This comes right before the naked pillow fight.
Sarah (Robin Tunney) has what the 90s referred to as "issues." After a violent outburst, her parents relocate to sunny California so she can start anew. (Since this is exactly the setup for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I'd like to believe the two stories exist in the same universe and our starring coven was this close to a run-in with the chosen one.) Sarah picks the "bitches of Eastwick" for her new BFFs: Nancy (Fairuza Balk channeling Marilyn Manson), Bonnie (Neve Campbell channeling Hester Prynne), and Rochelle (Rachel True channeling someone's pet rock.) These girls are kneesock-deep in the dark arts, and after token hesitancy, Sarah's happy to help wreak revenge on their enemies: shallow blondes, callous jocks, and negligent parents soon pay for the pain they've inflicted on our heroines. Perhaps not unexpectedly, however, the girls' absolute power corrupts them absolutely, and Sarah is compelled to stop her out-of-control friends in an epic metaphysical catfight with Nancy. Snakes are thrown. Mirrors are broken. It's an Evanescence music video of a time. You can probably guess how it ends.

The Craft gets so much stuff right that it's just boggling. I've never seen a movie about teenagers where the teenagers acted so much like teenagers. The conversations, the moods, the preoccupations are pitch-perfect: when Bonnie sees the scars running the length of Sarah's wrists and murmurs, awed, "you even did it the right way" it's heartbreaking, and hilarious, and oh, so very high school. Present here are the awkward conversations with nosy bus drivers, the sleepovers that flip-flopped from giggles to tears, the bizarre, poignant affectations: Nancy, keeps a hangman's noose in her locker. I had a friend who did that. Maybe it was life imitating art, maybe it was art imitating life, but it rang true for me.

Unfortunately, The Craft's third act descends into creepy-crawly chaos, undermining the very thing that makes the rest of the movie so effective: would these girls, whose friendship was strong enough to catch the attention of the gods, whose power and purity turned them into avenging angels wreaking havoc in the hallways, turn on each other over something as boring as a boy? What a disappointing end to a film that starts out reveling in the twisted feminine other-ness of its antiheroines. Some producer somewhere is to blame. Still, the sour conclusion didn't stop me from watching, and re-watching, and re-watching this movie in my own salad days. The Craft is required viewing for black sheep of any age.

"Is this a DAGGER I see before me?"
SCENE STEALER: Fairuza Balk. Be still, my heart. Why wasn't Fairuza Balk in everything, ever? Let's take a short Fairuza Balk tour:

Fairuza Balk in Return to Oz, a movie which gave everyone, everywhere, nightmares.

Fairuza Balk in Almost Famous, a movie which gave everyone, everywhere, a heartwarming feeling.

Fairuza Balk.

Fairuza Balk!

There's a scene in The Craft where Nancy snuggles with a dead manatee and Fairuza Balk even manages to pull that off, almost.

Or maybe it was a narwhal. Whatever. Fairuza Balk for president!

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