Dir: Andrew Flemming
Cert: 15 • US: 101 min • Columbia Pictures • May 3, 1996
It is a truth universally known that adolescence and highschool (or secondary school, depending on where you’re from) can be an awkward and unsettling time. Hundreds of films and television series have documented and captured teenage growing pains and feelings of being at odds with themselves and those around them. Andrew Flemming’s The Craft takes this overworked theme of successful and not-so successful and shapes it into a supernatural horror.
The adolescent under the hormonal microscope in this case is Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) who has just moved to Los Angeles with her father and stepmother into a new home and (of course!) new highschool. When the time comes to face the crowded hallways and daunting new classmates, Sarah rubs shoulders with both the typical, half-witted jock and a group of female misfits. Both options appear to have their pros and cons but ultimately after being screwed over by the horny athlete, she seeks comfort in the hands of three young women played by Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell and Rachel True.
From the get-go, Sarah sees that they dabble in witchcraft and reveals that she herself holds a supernatural gift. Over time, what first appears to be some experimentation becomes a full-blown coven when Sarah agrees to join as their fourth member. As individuals, the four characters have had traumatic experiences that have made them feel unworthy and insecure in themselves. As a result, the focus of their magic is on amending these issues so they can feel complete. Once initiated into the group, and having earned the respect of the other girls, Sarah begins to question and recognise the danger they pose when the others start taking their gift a spell too far. Deciding to leave the group when things turn violent, Sarah’s newfound friends soon make her life a living nightmare. One of the main strengths of The Craft is the level of research put into Wiccan culture to the film its structure. The magic practiced never comes off as unrealistic, unlike the way it was sometimes portrayed in some of its television counterparts such as Charmed or Buffy The Vampire Slayer. These witches seem to know what they are doing and talking about and it looks pretty convincing.
During the ’90s, The Craft felt like an antidote to the films dealing with the woes of being a young adult. It comes off like a shot in the dark and feels like the twisted sister of the bubblegum highschool satire of Clueless released the year previously. Faruiza Balk steals the show as the highly-strung and loosely-hinged bitch of the group who quickly makes life very difficult for Sarah. Though the film is classed under the horror genre, the really frightening feature of the film is Faruiza’s performance; everything from her evil stares, sinister humour, down to her gothed-out wardrobe lets us know something evil is waiting to unfold.
Not only does The Craft rise to the top of the slew of teen movies made over the years, it also stands up as a queer classic. Feelings of being an outsider and defected, searching for an identity whilst trying to fit in, overcoming all the struggles along the way and establishing yourself in your own terms is something every gay person can identify with. This is not just another teen movie.