1996, R, 100 min. Directed by Andrew Fleming. Starring Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Christine Taylor, Skeet Ulrich, Assumpta Serna, Cliff De Young.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 3, 1996
Although Columbia is marketing the film as a kind of Clueless by way of Aleister Crowley, this tale of teenage Los Angeles witches takes an abrupt turn away from the proverbial light about midway through and heads straight into the darkness. It is, for all intents and purposes, a horror movie, and a pretty dark one at that, keeping the audience off balance with a colorful blend of teen high jinks and a coming-of-age story á la De Palma's Carrie. Not a bad way to go, considering what could have been. Sarah (Tunney) is the new kid at St. Benedict's Academy, a stiff Catholic school in Los Angeles that looks more or less like any other high school, complete with the standard cliques, misogynistic jocks, and peer pressures that come with the territory. Sarah, who lost her mother at birth and is none too happy about the move, is already an outsider. When she's befriended by Nancy (Balk), Bonnie (Campbell), and Rochelle (True), she thinks she's finally found a way to drop her defenses and fit in, but this trio of minor-league Samanthas soon enough teach her that there's more to high school camaraderie these days than just hanging out at each other's houses. Together, the four represent the four magical corners -- earth, air, fire, and water -- and are able to call down the mythical spirit Manon, who grants them their innermost desires, be it physical beauty, attention from boys, revenge, or worse. Before you can say Jack Nicholson, things turn scary for the teen witches, with the bitter Nancy turning against Sarah and all manner of vermin erupting from the woodwork. The script by Peter Filardi (Flatliners) takes great pains not to make The Craft into another hoary cliché-fest, thankfully, although some of the lessons young people might take away from the film seem a bit mixed. That female empowerment in a land predominantly male (high school, that microcosm of life in the real world) leads to backstabbing, death, and madness is not exactly what most teenage girls want to hear, but that seems to be the case here. Regardless, director Fleming admirably milks the story line for all the thrills he can, cramming in plenty of wild, stylistic shots and coaxing bravura performances from his four leads, most notably Balk as the headstrong, abused, and abusive Nancy. It's not Bewitched, mind you, nor is it the airy teen comedy the film's television spots may have led you to believe. It's Teen Witch for the Nineties: dark, brooding, dangerous, and, come to think of it, a lot like high school.