Zoe Lister-Jones on Conjuring Up ‘The Craft’ Sequel

Jenna Scherer
·8 min read

If you grew up in the Nineties, you were blessed with a steady supply of witch’s brew. Between movies like Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic, Eve’s Bayou, and The Witches — and in TV shows like Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch — outsider females with supernatural powers were ubiquitous.

But the movie that best defined the era’s seasons of the witch was The Craft. Released in 1996, the cult classic centers on a trio of teens (Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, and Rachel True) who bring the new girl in school (Robin Tunney) into their coven. That’s when the fun starts … until things inevitably get dark. Goth-tinged and lightning-lit, the movie was a clarion call for high school outcasts everywhere, particularly girls. Here were young women who were weird, misunderstood, and demonstrably powerful. They didn’t care what anyone else thought. As Balk’s iconic villain, Nancy Downs, famously deadpanned: “We are the weirdos, mister.”

Twenty-four years down the line, in a time when witches on TikTok are hexing Donald Trump under the light of the blue moon, we finally have a sequel: The Craft: Legacy, written, directed, and executive produced by Zoe Lister-Jones. The multihyphenate, who made her directing debut with 2017’s Band Aid, fell under the spell of the original when she first saw it as a 14-year-old.

“I came of age in the Nineties, and it was such a seminal movie for anyone of our generation,” says Lister-Jones, speaking via phone from Los Angeles a few days before Halloween. “So many of us who felt like we were othered or outsiders were suddenly seen, and empowered in a way that I think weirdos hadn’t yet been. As a person who was in a lot of pain and also felt very isolated, that movie served to really make me feel like I had community.”

Now available on VOD, the follow-up takes place in the same world as the original. Once again, a triad of teen witches (Zoey Luna, Gideon Adlon, and Lovie Simone) are searching a fourth to complete their coven when a stranger with untapped powers comes to town: Lily (Cailee Spaeny), whose mom (Michelle Monaghan) has brought her to live in a giant, unnerving house with her even more unnerving boyfriend (David Duchovny) and his sons.

And while Legacy shares the spirit of its predecessor, it’s a very different film. Society’s lens on witchcraft, teen angst, and womanhood has shifted since the Nineties (and thank goddess it has). Lister-Jones has made a new Craft for a new age — one where female strength is to be celebrated rather than feared.

“I think that so many women at any age are forced to enter into so much self-doubt when we lean into our powers,” Lister-Jones explains. “Because that tends to threaten the existing systems at work, and that is so much a part of the history of witchcraft and witch hunting. It’s taken on so many new faces as it’s evolved over the decades since that original movie came out, and I guess I liked the idea of destigmatizing it while embracing the shadow self. This is really a celebration of the divine feminine.”

Legacy updates the original’s Robert Smithian aesthetic to reflect Gen Z fashion and attitudes, favoring bright colors and individual styles, and a soundtrack that includes the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Princess Nokia. And whereas The Craft ultimately ended with the coven destroying itself from within, Legacy takes pains to demonstrate that the danger isn’t in women’s agency, but in the toxic masculinity that hates and fears it.

“You know, it’s funny. I don’t remember as a teenager that message bumping for me,” Lister-Jones says of her early memories of the original. “I think we’re all so inundated with terrible messages around women all the time that that was, like, the least of the terrible messages that we were ingesting in popular culture. But when I rewatched it to pitch my take, it hit different as a grown woman. It made me pause.

“Fairuza was the most delicious villain of all time,” she continues,” and none of us would trade in that performance for anything in the world. But in reimagining it, I wanted to make sure that this was a movie that was about women in community, and that being something that is not too overwhelming to harness, that is not dangerous in the least. And in fact, the ways in which it causes danger are actually just a product of gaslighting from the nefarious forces at work.”

While the first film somewhat eroticized its teen subjects (“I am very aware of the fetishization of high school girls in uniform, and I wanted to avoid that,” Lister-Jones says), the sequel is much more interested in the relationships among the women in the film, and the more socially aware world that they live in. Like the Gen Z kids it portrays, Legacy wears its politics on its sleeve: It’s inclusive, progressive, upfront in its take on women’s bodies and women’s desire, and unabashedly feminist. (It’s part of a continuum for the writer-director’s career — when she was filming Band Aid, Lister-Jones shot with an all-female crew.)

For Legacy, she knew from the get-go that she wanted her coven to include a transgender character, and worked with GLAAD to find an actress to play the role of Lourdes, a trans Latina witch. Out of around 200 submissions, the filmmakers cast Luna, an up-and-comer who has appeared on FX’s Pose.

“For me, in trying to tell a story that was both celebrating the feminine and also feminist in nature, it felt essential to include trans voices in that story,” she says. “There was really never a question in my mind when I was thinking about who these four young women would be. I think it is such a crucial moment in our world, and we should take representation just so seriously as a media makers.”

The filmmaker had another voice she wanted include in the conception and execution of Legacy: actual practicing witches. To that end, she employed three occult consultants: Pam Grossman, the host of The Witch Wave podcast, who wrote the spells seen in the film; Bri Luna, a social-media influencer better known as the Hoodwitch, who advised Lister-Jones on traditions of witchcraft across cultures; and Erin Fogel, an on-set consultant who made sure that the movie’s rituals looked authentic and also performed offscreen witchery to cleanse the energy of the set each day.

“One of our occult consultants said, ‘The magic doesn’t know you’re making a movie.’ So we all wanted to be careful and respectful to whatever we were calling in,” Lister-Jones recalls. “I really wanted to make sure that I was being authentic to traditions of witchcraft, and also respectful to the contemporary witchcraft community.”

And while exploring the full breadth of womanhood in Legacy, Lister-Jones was also interested in various ideas of who men can be. The film’s big bad is the patriarchy, but Legacy is interested in exploring how it’s an institution that harms men as well. The filmmaker was working on the script at the height of the #MeToo movement, and she was hyper-aware of the backlash against it. And while Legacy portrays the worst of masculinity in Duchovny’s charismatic villain, it also provides a kind of road map for men to escape patriarchal cycles in the character of Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), a teen bully who evolves in surprising ways over the course of the movie.

“I definitely had to do not-fun research into the MRA [men’s rights activist] world,” she says with an audible shudder. “Toxic masculinity is being amplified under the guise of this academic and deeply earnest delivery system that was really chilling to me, because it was making it really easily digestible. It was coming at us from all sides. It always has. [But] I was interested in creating aspirational models of divine masculinity, and I wanted to look at allyship through that lens — that men can be called into our covens, so to speak, and what does it take for that to happen?”

Which is why, with the world in turmoil and an existentially harrowing presidential election on the immediate horizon, Lister-Jones wanted Legacy to be not just a sequel to a cult classic, but a hopeful, and surprisingly gentle, spell against the forces of patriarchal darkness.

“My heart really breaks for young women in particular and the messaging that they have had to be bombarded with by those in power for the last four years, and what kind of harm that has inflicted on their psyches and their self-worth,” Lister-Jones says. “I guess I hope that this movie can free young women from those constraints and instill the idea that their singularity is what makes them powerful, and that if we can come into community with each other, that we can hopefully make a change.”

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