The Deadly Women of The Craft

One of my favorite movies came about in 1996. This isn’t a popular thing to say, because film snobs everywhere will argue nothing good comes from modern media. Tonight I ask of you all to put down the pens and monocles and watch with new eyes. The Craft gave great talents a platform upon which to build their future careers in horror and the mainstream, and gave young women everywhere a movie about being an outcast and building something of your own.

I will not let that be the watered-down description of The Craft– it is merely the beginning.

The acting in this film was a force in and of itself, especially that of Fairuza Balk. Her Nancy, while erratic and manic, suited the role perfectly and created a genuinely wronged and vicious teenager. The passion of teenagers, by the way, is something we tend to forget. Usually because it’s embarrassing and we all want to forget, but it was real. Robin Tunney’s Sarah, who slit her wrists “the right way” with a kitchen knife, had enough anger in her to attempt a violent end. Tunney had just completed a role in which there is another failed suicide attempt in Empire Records. There’s no question- she knows how to play it. Sarah is sweet, if naïve, and while she also uses magic for personal gain, she does not feel the greed present in Nancy. There is a competition that develops between Nancy and Sarah over, sadly, a boy. Both Nancy and Sarah have been wronged by Chris- a jock with zero attractive qualities- and despite Nancy’s warnings, Sarah uses her talents to attract him, and create an obsession. Nancy’s jealousy manifests in his untimely demise, much to Sarah’s horror. Nancy’s escalation into mania provides for some of the most terrifying scenes, convincing enough for me to wonder how I would feel running into Fairuza on the street. I love such strong portrayals of breakdowns, because they feel like the most honest acting anyone could ever attempt.

I’m sure The Craft left young women wishing to be witches and calling upon the great spirit Manon (entirely fictional, by the way), and its creators made sure to present the consequences of invocations and selfish gain. Even the incantations and rituals were presented with on-site instructions by a Wiccan consultant. All they really needed after that was a Catholic school consultant, because no Catholic school I’ve ever known would have been so lenient with makeup, uniforms, and rumors about witches.

What I hope The Craft left young women is a guideline for the development of relationships. Toxic relationships, especially in high school, develop quickly and spiral into questions of dependence and self-worth. The four of them, Nancy, Sarah, Rochelle, and Bonnie felt bound to one another by witchcraft, despite the clear boundaries crossed as their talents progress. Rochelle and Bonnie didn’t feel strong enough to leave on their own, mindlessly following Nancy and becoming one-dimensional mean girls after Sarah and Nancy’s final confrontation. Disappointingly, they are made into vain bullies with no real influence of their own at the destruction of the coven. Nancy, however, becomes a cruel and manipulative influence upon the three girls, going so far as to prey on Sarah’s deepest insecurities. Anyone thinking that they can not apply a movie about witchcraft to their own life is missing the point- Sarah thought these girls were her friends, her sisters, and people she could depend on for anything. However, codependence is a veil that obscures our vision and tricks us into believing that there is no other way to live than with the other person. The four of them had been wronged by their school, their peers, and their families and felt the need to exact revenge. Their primary objective with the use of incantations had been punitive damages, and the escalation to violence was only natural.

To anyone still questioning The Craft, maybe it’s the underused gore in the film that prevents a desensitized horror freak from recognizing its horrific qualities- but the movie includes rape, murder, torture, and manipulation. The Craft was always a far cry from Sabrina.

The craft was a success due to its exploration of the female narrative with complexities far and wide rather than the stereotypes and tropes commonly assigned to high school girls. Each character was given depth, even if some could have been improved with added care given to their stories. Nancy, for example, ends with mental illness and a “comeuppance” rather cruel compared to her counterparts, given that the four of them believed in the powers of “Manon” and witchcraft. She did indeed murder the jock, but perhaps a better punishment suited for her crime or an explanation as to her mental illness would have served the audience well. Nancy, “white trash” and the most livid, passionate, and motivated of the group, had an implied past of abuse and neglect. Bonnie (Neve Campbell) must have had a story behind her self-hatred and disfigurement, but it went untold. Rochelle (Rachel True) had to deal with racism (an added subplot according to casting) due to her black presence in an overwhelmingly white Catholic school, and the racist remarks in question had to do with her hair. I feel you, Rochelle, but her story stops there.

Sarah had the most complete backstory, and was open with an extremely stigmatized subject matter on film- self-harm. Her suicide attempts were also discussed, and even if issues of her health weren’t necessarily resolved, they were brought to light. All four young women found each other in their darkest, but their evolved, caustic relationship was indicative of the need for change. The “we don’t need each other anymore” sentiment is a common one in relationships formed more by environment rather than personality. It is an example to people that feel obligated to one another due to past trauma or experience that breaking away, while difficult, may be necessary for one’s own sake.

All the heartbreak, anger, rebellion, depression, and happiness you felt at some point in your teen years is exacerbated by the underdeveloped mind and raging hormones that mellow out after 25. Will we ever feel as passionate as we did when we were young? On the bright side, we probably won’t feel as impulsive- therefore preventing incarceration.

The Craft really has something to teach us all.


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