It was 1996 when The Craft came out, right around the time 15 year old me was exploring Wicca and spending a small fortune on black eyeliner. Being the cool cat that I was, I saw this at the movies with my Nan, who lasted about 15 minutes before telling me she’d wait outside. I sat alone in the theatre, enthralled at these badass schoolgirls who had REAL POWERS. I plan on re-watching this with my teenager (who, coincidentally, spends a small fortune on black eyeliner these days) for a Halloween movie afternoon.
This is a divisive movie when it comes to feminism. I’ve read lots of differing points of view about whether or not this makes the cut as a feminist film. For this series, I’m gonna go with yes, it is, but I’ll add that overarching disclaimer that it’s far from perfect.
Quiet, sort of troubled yet well-off teenager Sarah moves to town and starts a new school. She quickly catches the eye of Chris, one of the cool guys. He warns her off hanging out with a certain group, consisting of Nancy, Rochelle and Bonnie. Sarah, however, is already on their radar. They become friends and the three girls tell Sarah about Manon, the deity they worship. The girls talk about rituals and spells- the “craft” they practice. They want Sarah to be the fourth in their coven. Sarah, meanwhile, is a “natural witch” with magical abilities, something we see from the start of the film.
When the four of them are together, Sarah is approached by a strange homeless man who has a snake. Soon after, he is hit by a car. The girls believe this is a sign, that the four of them together somehow made it happen. They continue to work on their magic together.
Sarah goes on a date with Chris, who later spreads false rumours that they slept together. Sarah is hurt and confronts him. He is dismissive and rude to her. She responds by casting a love spell on Chris. meanwhile the other coven members are casting spells of their own. Rochelle casts a spell on Laura Lizzie, a racist girl who has made her life hell. Bonnie uses magic to remove the scars that cover most of her body, making her as “beautiful” as she had wanted to be. Nancy’s magic is aimed at freeing herself from poverty.
The coven, under Nancy’s leadership, decides to perform an important ritual called “Invoking the Spirits”. Afterwards, Nancy is extremely powerful and seems to have lost her empathy and consideration. Sarah is still struggling with Chris, whose infatuation with her continues to the point of almost raping her. Nancy gets involved and, despite Sarah trying to intervene, it culminates with Nancy using her powers to shove him out of a window.After this, Sarah realises Nancy must be stopped. She attempts to magically bind her from doing harm, but Nancy is too strong. Instead, the coven turns on her.
The girls attack Sarah in her home, using their powers to try to convince her to commit suicide. Eventually, she must invoke Manon herself and defeat them to save herself.
The Bechdel Test.
Pass: The story has a huge focus on the building of the coven, meaning there is lots of conversation, woman to woman, about things other than a man. The nature of their coven means there must be trust between the girls, who are certainly interested in boys but are mostly interested in fostering their own power.
The Sexy Lamp Test.
Pass: There is no way any of these young women could be replaced with a lamp. Their characters are central to the story line.
The Mako Mori Test.
Pass: The primary narrative arc is Sarah’s. Nancy’s story is also prominent. Chris, the love interest, is not really explored as a character other than to illustrate his casual misogyny. He is simply a chapter in their own stories.
Thoughts and Issues.
Yes, it passes all the tests and yes, it’s a story about a bond between women. As previously mentioned, it’s not perfect.
- Chris spreads rumours that he and Sarah had sex, slut-shaming her even though it was false. She responds by casting a love spell on him. His resulting infatuation with her appears to be his punishment; he carries her stuff and gazes at her, much to the amusement of his buddies. She knows that him being nice to her and liking her AFTER they have apparently had sex will reduce him in the eyes of his peers. Ugh.
- Chris attempts to rape Sarah, presumably because of the love spell. We know that rape is not an act of love but generally one of power, but the film ignores that. When Nancy decides to intervene after this and really punish Chris- she does so by seducing him. She is a powerful witch by this stage, and punishing a would-be rapist, but sex is still the go-to tool?
- Bonnie becomes obsessed by her looks and conforming to a traditional standard of beauty while her bestie, Rochelle, uses her power to take away from someone else’s looks as a punishment. This super-fixation on looks and patriarchal standards of beauty empowers no one.
- There is one person of colour featured in The Craft and it’s not very diverse otherwise.
- The ending shows that all the girls somehow lose their powers- all but Sarah. All the others had their magic backfire. Nancy is broken by her desire to escape poverty and powerlessness while Bonnie is punished by reverting to her “ugly” state. Rochelle, who punished her racist bully, loses her power after showing only the smallest glimmer of regret when she finds Laura sobbing in the locker room as her hair falls out in clumps. The affluent, beautiful white girl who wants to fit in (preferably by having a cool boyfriend) is the only one who managed to use her powers well and keeps them.
Have you seen The Craft? What did you think? id you know some cinemas are showing it this weekend for Halloween?!
#FYBF @ With Some Grace.