The Craft is a pretty simple witch suspense flick, which takes four Catholic school outcasts -- cast with a few it-actors of the mid-'90s -- devoted to following glamorized Wiccan beliefs and gives us a coming-of-power story. It hits in punchy, foreseeable fashion, with all the to-and-fro dramatic intent, rise to power, and the plummet downwards once they're drunk with mystical power becoming the one-note focuses to each act in the picture. All points considering, including some clever usage of old-school special effects, Andrew Fleming pieces together a tense slab of magic-infused horror to capitalize on the witchcraft / Wiccan curiosity swirling around at the time. Filled with chants and charms, it's a throwaway yet wicked little thrillride.
More specifically, we're focusing on Sarah (Robin Tunney), a once-suicidal recluse who has recently moved to California with her family. After she's less than successful in playing the part of a "normal" student by rolling with the popular crowd, she hooks up with three of the Catholic school's dark pariahs in need of a fourth to complete their witch's circle -- Bonnie (Neve Campbell), a mousy girl who covers her body from head to toe because of burn scar tissue; Rochelle, a relatively-normal athletic type eschewed from the popular crowd because of racial pokes from a sharp-toothed blonde (Christine Taylor); and Nancy (Fairuza Balk), a brash and brooding vixen with venom for just about everyone, including Chris (Skeet Ulrich), the guy that decides to make Sarah's life problematic by lying about the "success" of their first date.
Director Fleming attempts to make us empathize with the black-sheep nature of this "coven" of girls at first, giving us a reason to root them on once they start to dabble in the witch's power and grow thirsty for a bit of revenge and retribution. It's actually pretty successful in doing so without even a hint of humor, largely due to better-than-average dramatic efforts from Campbell, Tunney, and Balk. Each of them gained recognition around the time for varied reasons, from Campbell's run on "Party of Five" and later with Scream to Robin Tunney scene-stealing bout in Empire Records, which help to make us believe in the girls as friends instead of a slapdash group of girls thrown together for happenstance reasons. Probably the most unique of the bunch is Balk's transformation from scowling leper to ominous warlock in Nancy, who was able to springboard off her snarky, dark persona into other like-minded roles in American History X and, to a lighter extent, in Almost Famous.
What starts as a whirlwind of spells to better the girls' lives quickly unravels into a power play between them, bringing out the darker elements of this witchcraft as their powers strengthen. Now, their rise to power is somewhat immediate and grows stronger than it probably should in the allotted time -- much too strong, actually -- but we're able to surrender to The Craft's momentum for the sheer delight in watching them turn on each other with mystical guns blazing. It takes the "with great power comes great responsibility" metaphor and pumps it full of satisfying suspense, coming to a conclusion full of snakes, suicide, illusion, and dueling witches with biting attitudes. Within all that, it's hard not to forgive The Craft for its faults and simply dig into its brazen wiliness.
Video and Audio:
Though considering the fact that it was shot on a low-ish budget, The Craft still only looks marginally acceptable in its 1.85:1 1080p AVC image. A few sequences showcase decent detail range and a few color pops -- like in the black-lit witch's temple late in the flick, in the doctor's office, and many of the candlelit sequences in Sarah's house -- but several instances of detail and coloring are a bit on the washed-out side, though it's likely purposeful for a hazy, wispy visual design. Details are a bit on the blurry side throughout, all seen through a rather heavy draping of grain. Light scenes fare much better than dark sequences; as soon as the lights go out, the fuzziness and grainy properties are heightened, as are the obvious fading on the edges of the print. Though the fact that it's kept natural looking with no manipulation and stays mostly damage-free is a huge positive, it's just not an overly pleasing visual treatment. Supportive and likable due to some colorfulness and accuracy, sure, but not as tight as we'd like to see.
Thankfully, the DTS HD Master Audio saves the day a bit by offering a fairly robust and accurate sound presentation. Lots of surround elements fill the corners of the soundstage, like wind blowing and snakes hissing, to a rather dynamic level. The Craft's a sound-heavy film, with plenty of harsh dialogue, sound effects, and aggressive musical cues -- and most of it largely satisfies. A few piercing instances of dialogue scrape the shelf of the speakers and cause a little distortion, along with a few of the more thunderous effects (i.e. billowing fire). Though active, there's not a lot of lower-frequency activity present, though the lower channel is used for a few wavering little ambient elements. It's a natural sound track that largely behaves itself in clarity and robustness. Master Audio tracks are also available in French and Spanish dubbed tracks, while subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
Commentary with Director Andrew Fleming:
Fleming takes a somber approach to this commentary, staying insightful yet unenergetic about his production. He does, however, include some anecdotes about how he wanted to "shed blood" for the picture in a literal fashion, as well as his appreciation for the special effects used in the film. Some talk also finds its way into the track about casting friends and family in the picture, along with some harping on the qualities of the actresses -- which ones looked particularly attractive during the sunlit scenes, which one could really "scream", etc.
Conjuring The Craft (24:35, MPEG-2 from DVD):
This featurette covers how they took the Wiccan arts and translated them into an enjoyable experience on-screen. It covers which of the elements each of the girls represent in a little more detail, as well as how the film received its greenlight based on the cast. Later on, they also dive into the photography and green-screen special effects. Snippets from the film are spliced into the featurette, as well as interview time with director Fleming, producer Douglas Wick, and all the actresses
Also available are the original Making-of The Craft featurette (5:59, MPEG-2 from SD), a series of compelling Deleted Scenes (6:37, MPEG-2 from SD) with optional commentary, and a few Previews -- none of which include The Craft.
The Craft's not a bad teenage suspense flick with witchcraft as the central theme, though it's very one-dimensional in simply presenting the growth and fall of the main characters' powers. Still, the slate of it-actresses from the '90s offer some of their better performances, which help to sell the friendship between them as an enjoyable basis for all this magical explosiveness. Sony's Blu-ray looks mediocre and sounds fine, though the extras are little lacking -- especially since nothing extra has been applied to this release from the standard-definition DVD. Fans will likely see a marginal boost in visuals and audio potency, but most will be satisfied just giving this one a Rental.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site