The Craft [25 Year Retrospective]: Witches and Weirdos
“Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Lights as a feather, stiff as a board”. Thanks to The Craft every late 90’s and early 00’s sleepover involved this levitating game and 25 years after it’s release it is still inspiring women in so many ways. This cult classic launched an entire generation of Wicca loving, black lipstick wearing, weirdo embracing women who found power, and a voice, through watching this film and relating to its unique group of leads. It was a game changer for many and it’s legacy lives on even now. It doesn’t take much to push me to a rewatch of The Craft so it reaching its silver anniversary this month was more than enough to warrant delving back into this magical movie.
When Sarah (Robin Tunney) moves with her dad and step-mum from San Francisco to Los Angeles she ends up attending a catholic high school, St. Benedict’s Academy. On her first day catches the eye of three other students, nicknamed ‘The Bitches of Eastwick’, Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie (Neve Campbell) and Rochelle (Rachel True), who are drawn to her as a potential fourth for their coven. Sarah may be resistant at first but after being mistreated, and gaslit, by Chris (Skeet Ulrich), one of the popular boys at school, she falls to her fellow witches for comfort and companionship. Once connected these teenagers harness their powers and begin to build themselves up whilst also taking revenge on those who have wronged them.
Just from the opening credits we know what we are in for. Flashing Pagan imagery and an alt-rock soundtrack blare across the screen and it’s the most beautifully 90’s credit sequences I’ve ever witnessed. The setting may be LA but it’s not the way we’re used to seeing it, there’s an element of nature taking over the place and gothic undertones that bring a side of the city to light that hasn’t been seen much. The whole world set up for The Craft is an instant visual dream (or nightmare depending on the scene) and made it so easy to fall straight in and understand that, in this reality, magic exists but it is besmirched by the situations of real life.
These real life struggles are embodied by our original trio, who are all marginalised when we first meet them and desperate to find their power in the world. Bonnie is significantly scarred after suffering burns as a child and now finds herself hiding beneath layers of clothes and face covering hair. She sees herself as a monster because of her imperfections and banishes herself from being noticed. She is the representation of how low self esteem can affect every aspect of a person’s life and proves that a ‘magic fix’ isn’t always the right fix.
Nancy, the coven creator, is definitely the most power hungry of the group, and that’s no surprise considering the power she has been denied through her upbringing. The film displays Nancy’s home life as one of poverty and deprivation, she doesn’t have a loving and welcoming home to return to. There’s hints at physical, sexual and emotional abuse from a seedy step-father and a lack of support from a drunken mother. Nancy is labelled ‘white trash’ and was clearly an easy target for some of the students of the school, including Chris, before taking her mantle as a ‘weirdo’ who was not to be fucked with. She had to claim an identity to counteract one that was enforced upon her just from economic circumstances.
The power struggle of being black in a predominantly white space is explored brilliantly with Rochelle, and was echoed in Rachel True’s mistreatment during the promotion and fan events that followed the film. Rochelle is tormented by a racist bully, Laura, who is a fellow member of the diving team. From yelling shark whilst Rochelle dives, to commenting on her natural hair, all the way to using disgusting racial language, Laura is very vocal with her hatred. There’s even more argument here for why Rochelle would want revenge, why she would want this cruel and privileged woman to feel the sting of being judged, mocked and cruelly targeted, because she represents so much more than just ‘one mean girl’.
“The Craft didn’t pander to a teenage audience, it looked at High School life for what it could truly be, hellish.”
They find their fourth in Sarah. Sarah is suffering, feeling isolated as the new girl and living with the long-term heartbreak of never having met her mother as she died during childbirth. She can be seen as floating, not knowing where she should be. Her past scars show that she suffers mental health issues and has attempted to take her life before. Sarah is the true power of the group, the natural witch who the others are drawn to, and eventually who they leach off of. Her power is celebrated and shared to begin and to be reclaimed for herself by the end.
These teens are our coven and each one of them is taken advantage of, belittled and broken down for things they have no control over, things that happen in the everyday world that we live in. So, of course, we take solace and joy in their revenge and their victories of using magic to exact their wants and reach their desires. Seeing a woman gain confidence and take control of her situation was empowering for the young audience watching and gave hope that these real world situations could be altered.
The Craft didn’t pander to a teenage audience, it looked at High School life for what it could truly be, hellish. From racism to slut-shaming, poverty to self harm, it didn’t shy away. Also, it examined female friendships, how they can grow and be supportive, but also how they can become toxic and harmful. If you are never told you can wave goodbye to someone who is bad for you it will leave you surrounded by people who don’t have your best interests at heart.
It’s in these teenage stories that The Craft is so identifiable. It’s not just the standard ‘drama’ we’re shown in Teen Movies, it’s much more personal, dealing with identity and confidence issues. The girls make mistakes, lots of them, and watching it back now it’s so easy to point them out. Poor Sarah should not have wanted Chris, but she’s young and places value on his approval, something I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of. It’s in rewatching The Craft that, instead of judging these plot lines that seem misguided now, we see the true experiences of teenage life. The time we agreed with the mean kids and called someone else a slut because it made us feel higher on the totem pole. Those feelings of being so lost that you would cling to anything, or anyone, to just feel like you had a place you belonged. Toxic friendships lasting years beyond their expiry date, misguided crushes on people who wanted to use you and the feeling of constantly having to wrestle with the complete confusion and powerlessness of adolescence. It’s good that we look at this film differently now, we should, but only because we have hindsight on our teen years, not because the film was bad or wrong with its messages.
It’s no wonder The Craft became a cultural phenomenon, it’s the aesthetic every strange girl wanted, and still wants based on the amount of Pinterest boards and Instagram tags I’ve seen. That effortless goth apparel combined with a distorted Catholic School look, the fuck you attitude and the ability to truly cast magic was all we wanted. It’s a darkly humoured and delightfully dangerous exploration of female self-discovery and coming of age. It’s about being the ‘other’, the strange one who doesn’t see her place in the typical teen hierarchy and feels like a social pariah. Sure it doesn’t end with a happily ever after like many teen films, but it does end with a woman finding power in being her true self, and that’s a strong message for the 90’s and now. So take strength and chant with me “Now is the time. This is the hour. Ours is the magic. Ours is the power.”