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‘The Craft: Legacy’: The sequel’s magic lies in its respect for teen issues

The four young witches in this wickedly funny and wild ride make an endearing team.

New kid Lily (Cailee Spaeny, right) falls in with a trio of witches (Zoey Luna, from left, Gideon Adlon and Lovie Simone) in “The Craft: Legacy.”
Columbia Pictures

One of the best badass teen horror movies of the 1990s was the surprise hit “The Craft” (1996), with Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell and Rachel True as a quartet of fringe outcasts at a posh parochial school who discover their inner witches and cause all manner of havoc. It was like “Clueless” meets “Carrie,” and amid all the supernatural madness, it took on issues such as racist bullying, domestic violence and the power dynamic between social classes of teenagers.

Now comes “The Craft: Legacy,” and it’s a worthy companion piece on both fronts. It brings the supernatural drive-in movie thrills galore but also intelligently and respectfully explores a number of timely and relevant issues, from the journey of a transgender character to why it’s still not easy for a stereotypically macho jock to come out to the often complicated relationships between young women who are all about girl power and supporting one another — but can be as mean as the “Mean Girls” from days gone by.

“The Craft: Legacy” is a smart, edgy, wickedly funny and wild ride from the talented writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones, who’s also an actress known for the CBS sitcom “Life in Pieces,” among other works. Lister-Jones infuses nearly every shot with style in delivering one of the better looking and more involving horror films of the year. And while “Legacy” works as a stand-alone film and it’s a not a prerequisite for you to see “The Craft” before seeing this one, I highly recommend you DO see the original first, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

“Legacy” starts with the time-honored horror movie setup of parent and child making a fresh start in a new home where everything will be better, just you wait and see. Michelle Monaghan is Eunice, a single mother, and Cailee Spaeny is her teenage daughter Lily. Monaghan and Spaeny have terrific chemistry in immediately establishing a powerful and loving mother-daughter dynamic, as evidenced by their enthusiastic jamming to Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” on their road trip to a new life. Lily has promised to keep an open mind as they move into the gigantic homestead of Eunice’s new romantic interest, Adam (David Duchovny) and Adam’s three sons: the older alpha males, Jacob (Charles Vandervaart) and Isaiah (Donald MacLean Jr.), and the younger and more sensitive Abe (Julian Grey), the only one who makes an effort to be nice to Lily.

Duchovny is a deadpan hoot as Adam, a kind of men’s rights guru who has written a book titled “Hallowed Masculinity,” holds seminars encouraging his fellow males to assert themselves and rules the household with an iron hand. Even when he makes fun of himself and says he made a “dad joke,” there’s something … off about this guy.

To say Lily’s first few days at school are a whirlwind is an understatement. She experiences a mortifying moment of embarrassment with echoes of a scene from the previously mentioned “Carrie,” she’s taunted by the predatory bully Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) and she finds kindred spirits in Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Lourdes (Zoey Luna) and Tabby (Lovie Simone), three novice witches (that’s right) who have been searching for a much-needed fourth who can complete the quartet of Air, Fire, Water and Earth magic and exponentially increase their collective powers. Lily hears their pitch and says with wry understatement, “This is a LOT, but I am listening …”

Writer-director Lister-Jones gives us the expected high school movie scenes in the hallways and the classrooms, the obligatory blowout party, et al., balanced with the growing supernatural element, as the girls learn to master their growing respective skill sets. (We even get a “Rocky”-esque training and initiation sequence, set to “Seventeen” by Sharon Van Etten, and it’s just too great.) They cast a spell on the toxic Timmy and he becomes “Woke Timmy,” who is enlightened and earnest — and suddenly interested in Lily, who feels the same way. It’s “Sixteen Candles,” only the candles have been lit by … witchcraft! But Lister-Jones’ richly packed script is filled with sharp turns, so even the “Woke Timmy” storyline goes to a place we wouldn’t expect.

We know a witchy storm is brewing in “The Craft: Legacy” and we’re pretty sure we know where it’s coming from, but that doesn’t diminish the sheer go-for-it madness of the climactic confrontations. By that point, we’ve really come to root for the quartet, especially our heroine Lily. Cailee Spaeny, Lovie Simone, Gideon Adlon and Zoey Luna are absolutely endearing and natural together. With their offbeat sense of fashion style and their whip-smart humor and their genuine strength and courage, they’d be a force to be reckoned with even if they couldn’t so much as extinguish a candle from across the room.