More than a few Halloweens ago — two dozen to be exact — came a film that looked like a treat but ended up as a trick.
“The Craft” was about four teenage witches who eventually turned their powers against each other and lost everything, leaving the film with a conventional, conservative message: Don’t unleash your power. It was deflating.
Now comes — well, its not entirely clear. A reboot? A sequel? A continuation and a re-imagining? It doesn’t matter at all. Blumhouse’s “The Craft: Legacy” is a vastly better, smartly crafted version that’s woke, feminist and very 2020. It’s the story’s best self.
Director and writer Zoe Lister-Jones leaves little nods to the original 1996 film — snakes, butterflies, chants and a pagan deity called Manon — but has gut-renovated the property and restored the female empowerment theme the first one virtually cried out for.
It is a film about resistance and sisterhood. One recurring slogan is “Your difference is your power.” Another is: “You shouldn’t run from your power.” It arrives at a time when the concept of witches is being reclaimed, just as this story has been.
The first film starred Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk and Rachel True. The new one stars Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, and Zoey Luna, widening the circle to include a trans voice.
Appropriately, the soundtrack kicks off with an Alanis Morissette tune, leading a female-centric sonic landscape that includes Lonette, Princess Nokia, Sharon Van Etten, Nadia Rose and Betta Lemme.
Spaeny plays a new girl in a new town, echoing the role Tunney played in “The Craft.” The new girl connects with a coven of three fledgling witches who are looking for a fourth to complete their circle. “So it shall be sealed and done/When all four corners meet as one.”
The foursome contend with bullies but grow in confidence as they begin to assert their powers. With a flick of a hand, they can add face gems or set fires or injure a tormenter. When they levitate a member, they repeat the incantation from the first film: “Light as a feather, stiff as a board.”
Lister-Jones’ script is very naturalistic and current — “all the feels,” “VBD” and “That’s fire.” There are “Twilight” references and a cauldron made out of a bong. In one spell, the witches make a sexist bully suddenly very politically correct and vulnerable, apologizing for his power to shame. “I’m sorry,” he says.
Michelle Monaghan plays single mom to Spaeny’s character and David Duchovny, as a potential stepdad, masterfully fills his scenes with a troubling macho spirit. (He plays a motivational speaker who believes power equals order and is author of “The Hallowed Masculine.”)
The four witches do squabble over how far to push their magic — “If we’re not going to use our power responsibly, then we shouldn’t be using it at all,” one says — but unity is the solution.
As it races to its cool supernatural climax — and then a coda that connects it to the first film — “The Craft: Legacy” is firing on all cylinders, looking back respectfully but also showing how the same story in different hands can soar.
We beg Lister-Jones to do it again and reclaim and retell more schlocky fare from the ’80s or ’90s. What about an updated “Weird Science” or “Risky Business?” One thing is clear: She’s fire.
“The Craft: Legacy,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for “thematic elements, crude and sexual content, language and brief drug material.” Running time: 94 minutes. Three stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits