“Loving and Cruel, All at the Same Time”

Girlhood Identity in The Craft

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 University of New South Wales emilykchandler50@gmail.com

ABSTRACT

The teen horror film The Craft (1996) has remained a cult classic with girl audiences for two decades. Scholarship about the film has focused on its negative representation of girls’ friendships, sexuality, and desire for power. In this article, I honor the significance of girl culture by accounting for The Craft’s appeal to girl audiences. I argue that The Craft’s relevance to girls arises from its subversion of teen film tropes. The Craft explores adolescent girls’ fear of isolation by depicting a mentally ill teenager who draws strength and happiness from the company of her friends, and becomes depressed when they oust her. By flouting the imperative for adolescent girl protagonists to be white, middle-class, mentally healthy, and normatively bodied, The Craft portrays girls’ desire for understanding over the pursuit of so-called popularity, girls’ anger arising from marginalization, and girls’ exploiting of friendship as a weapon.

Introduction

In Andrew Fleming’s teen horror film The Craft (1996), a middle-aged bus driver drops four teenage girls in the middle of nowhere, warning them to “watch out for those weirdos.” Unbeknown to him, these girls are witches, poised to realize their powers. Their ringleader retorts, “We are the weirdos, mister,” giving the driver an unsettling grin as the doors of the bus close.

At the opening of the film, Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Rochelle (Rachel True) and Bonnie (Neve Campbell), misfit girls at a Catholic high school in Los Angeles, are experimenting unsuccessfully with witchcraft derived from Manon, a nature deity. Newcomer Sarah (Robin Tunney) is haunted by her mother’s death giving birth to her. Noticing that Sarah has magical powers, the coven convinces Sarah to join them. With Sarah as the fourth member of their circle, their spells begin to work, and Sarah’s confidence blooms. However, the others begin to use magic for personal gain and violent revenge. Sarah withdraws, only to have the coven turn against her.

The Craft drew mixed critical reception, but garnered popular acclaim, particularly with girls. A Columbia Pictures representative asserted that “teenagers loved it because it was their movie and young women went for it because the sub-theme is about women taking control” (Brennan 1996: n.p. 3). The Craft influenced the themes and styling of later screen treatments of teen witchcraft, such as the television series Charmed (1998-2006), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and The Secret Circle (2011–2012), and the films The Covenant (2006) and All Cheerleaders Die (2014), as well as films using the supernatural or paranormal as a metaphor for adolescent angst, such as The Faculty (1998) and Ginger Snaps (2000).

The Craft has been revisited multiple times in popular culture. In 2012, the film was adapted as an off-Broadway musical by Kevin Michael Jones and Brandon Michael Lowden (StageTube 2013). A 2013 Los Angeles cemetery screening of The Craft played to an audience of thousands, and included a Q&A session with three of the film’s stars (Avery 2013). In 2015, the British pop music group Little Mix made a video homage to The Craft for their single, Black Magic (Purcell 2015). The online marketplace Etsy teems with fan-created jewelry, clothing, and collectibles featuring characters and quotes from The Craft (Etsy 2016). On 14 May 2015, Sony Pictures announced plans for a remake of The Craft (Blistein 2015). The continuing popularity of The Craft calls for consideration of why audiences feel compelled to return to it.

Scholars generally read The Craft as an allegory for the treacherousness of high school cliques (Craig 2010; Edwards 2005; Shary 2002; Short 2006). Academic consensus is that The Craft reaffirms patriarchy through its treatment of Nancy, whose anger, sexuality, and hunger for power leads to her undoing (Godwin 2012; San Filippo 2013; Stephens 2003; Johnston 2007; Spooner 2004). The film has been interpreted largely as demonizing girls’ friendships: Shary argues that the girl characters’ intimacy “becomes suspect as their occult powers yield more dramatic results” (2002: 176). If The Craft represents members of its target audience so poorly, why has it continued to be influential and successful?

I argue that The Craft’s subversion of teen film tropes allows it to explore girls’ desire for understanding and companionship rather than what is known as popularity. In her landmark study of girls’ and women’s psychology, Carol Gilligan found that adolescent girls derive security from inclusion in a group; they perceive isolation as dangerous (1982). By depicting the girls’ marginalization prior to their banding together, their strength once they form a group, and Sarah’s vulnerability following her exile, The Craft gives dimension to this fear. This is arguably where a key relevance of the film for girl audiences lies: The Craft is literally a horror film about a girl being bullied by her former friends. That they are her friends, rather than a group of one-dimensional stereotypical mean girls, is crucial to the efficacy of this narrative.

Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle’s acceptance shows Sarah that life can be worth living, whereas their subsequent targeting of her drives Sarah almost to suicide. Exactly how this narrative balancing act is accomplished can be pinpointed by asking how The Craft constitutes girls’ identities by subverting teen film tropes within discourses of gender and girlhood, such as popularity, friendship, and aggression.

My aim is to examine how The Craft’s portrayal of girlhood stands out from the canon of American teen and/or horror film, and, in this way, account for its relevance to girl audiences. In so doing, I reject the cultural notion, discussed by Carole A. Stabile (2011: E4) in the context of feminist responses to young adult paranormal romance novels, that girls’ culture is categorically inferior to adult and/or male-geared media. Instead, I argue that cultural offerings created for, or by, girls have the potential to speak to girls’ experiences and desires in ways that adult male culture often cannot do.

“Perfect Love and Perfect Trust”: The Joys of Finding Friends

The coven is Sarah’s salvation and her near-destruction. In this regard, The Craft is unusual since many films about girls and bullying show little underlying complexity in the relationship between protagonist and antagonist. In popular American teen films such as Heathers (1988), Jawbreaker (1999) and Mean Girls (2004), girls’ aggression is part of a struggle for popularity. Popularity is represented as a feminized form of power that girls access by embodying normative femininity, attracting high-status male partners, and manipulating other girls. Moss observes that in Mean Girls, the anger of girl characters does not “stem from any specific place”—they simply turn on each other because it is “so damn easy” (2006: 47). Adolescent girls’ aggression is essentialized as a natural inclination rather than a response to environmental factors. While Heathers, Jawbreaker, and Mean Girls are more explicitly comedic than The Craft, they do not entertain the idea that girls seek out female company for reasons other than acquiring popularity, or that girls’ anger is legitimate.

By comparison, in The Craft, Sarah derives comfort and strength from her place in the coven. Being included is momentously affirming for her, as she is shown to have attempted suicide previously by slitting her wrists. Noticing Sarah’s scars, Bonnie congratulates her on cutting her wrists “the right way,” and Nancy proclaims the scars to be “Punk rock!” Only Rochelle is perturbed but she keeps this to herself until Sarah is out of earshot. Their logic dictates that since Sarah is troubled and different, she will fit in as part of their group. While their positioning of her scars (and, by extension, her trauma and/or her mental illness) as a countercultural statement is objectifying and problematic, having her past treated as deserving of celebration or tact is significant in a culture in which mental illness is deeply taboo.

In subsequent scenes, Bonnie, Nancy, and Rochelle are shown also to have personal problems that alienate them from their peers. Nancy lives in poverty with her alcoholic, ineffectual mother, Grace (Helen Shaver), and lecherous, physically abusive stepfather Ray (John Kapelos). Nancy’s biological father is absent; Ray nastily alleges that Nancy was conceived as a result of Grace’s sex work. At school, Nancy is regarded as a “major slut” and a “scary bitch.” Nancy was once involved with football captain Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich), who spread rumors about her and it is implied that he passed on to her a sexually transmitted infection. Being poor and maligned makes Nancy feel powerless and this fuels explosive rage in her.

Bonnie’s back and shoulders are covered with disfiguring burn scars and she feels that her non-normative body makes her unworthy of love and desire. For example, when Nancy warns Sarah that Chris “comes onto anything with tits,” Bonnie quips, “Except me.” This aside suggests that Bonnie envies Nancy’s entanglement with Chris, despite Chris’s despicable treatment of Nancy. As far as Bonnie is concerned, a disastrous tryst would be preferable to being disregarded entirely as a sexual being.

Rochelle belongs to the school diving team, alongside high-status girls like Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor). Rochelle is kept from being accepted by one thing—Laura’s racism. Laura calls Rochelle a “Negroid,” makes derogatory comments about Rochelle’s hair, and publicly humiliates her. While Rochelle does enjoy their company, the implication is that she initially befriended Nancy and Bonnie because nobody else would include her.

The girls’ marginalization and their bonds are further conveyed by their costuming. At the beginning of the film, Sarah does not wear a uniform when she starts attending her new school, Bonnie wears a dark, shapeless coat to hide her body, and Nancy customizes her uniform to flout the school’s dress codes. Only Rochelle wears her uniform according to regulation requirements but in spite of this she cannot help but stand out as one of the only black students at the school. As the girls become closer, they begin to wear gothic-inspired clothing. Gothic subculture and its fashion was initially derived from nineteenth-century gothic literature, which initiated the attempt to evoke “terror that both upsets and compels” (Ballantyne 2008: 331). By contrasting traditionally feminine items (like corsets and skirts) with accessories (such as spiked collars) designed to communicate toughness, remoteness, and deviant forms of sexuality, and, with its pale makeup, heavy eyeliner, and black lipstick, gothic fashion offers teenage girls an avenue to “critique femininity while at the same time indulge in it” (Maerz 2010: 36). Arguably, this is an appealing form of expression for girls who feel ambivalent toward femininity because their experiences are outside the restrictive margins of normative girlhood.

In Reviving Ophelia, an influential 1994 book on adolescent girls’ psychology, Mary Pipher claims that parental separation, beauty culture, media sexualization of girls, and the threat of sexual assault contribute to girls’ negative body image, self-destructive behaviors, and suicidal ideation. The Craft’s scenes that explore each girl’s individual trials (such as the racist bullying Rochelle endures or Sarah’s struggles with suicidal ideation and self-harm) serve as a near-perfect dramatization of Pipher’s argument. The representation of a friendship breakdown in The Craft also resonates with the girls-in-crisis narrative. However, The Craft diverges from the girls-in-crisis model in one significant way: Pipher’s work is often criticized for failing to explore girls’ resistance to patriarchy (Brown 1998; Leblanc 1999). While the girls’ “shared otherness and the [fact that the] power they engender in one another stems from a fantasy phenomenon (witchcraft) rather than an actual activist movement ([like] riot grrrl)” (San Filippo 2013: 139), the circumstances in which they find themselves and at which their anger is directed result from patriarchal oppression; their desire to change them is portrayed as understandable and necessary. The Craft shows girls resisting on a personal level, if not on a political one; they use their resources (magic and friendship) to exact revenge on their tormentors and to better their circumstances.

The Craft subverts teen film tropes through the marginalization of its girl characters. Ordinarily, girl protagonists in popular American teen films have fairly normative identities. Even those positioned as outsiders are often outsiders only by the standards of mainstream American teen comedies: they are slender, white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender girls whose family situation causes them to have to change schools. Such girl characters, portrayed as cool losers, appear in Mean Girls (2004), John Tucker Must Die (2006) and Bring It On: All Or Nothing (2006). These characters, unlike those in The Craft, fit in socially as soon as they make the right friends and gain an understanding of their new environment.

Films about marginalized teenagers often focus on the characters’ engagement with or their coming to terms with what are known as their issues, as in All Over Me (1997), Precious (2009), and Gimme Shelter (2013) which deal with homosexuality, teen pregnancy, poverty, abuse, rape, and homelessness. In The Craft, the girls’ mental health, socio-economic background, race, and bodily scarring have an impact on the plot, but do not constitute the film’s entire storyline. This is significant when read against a tradition of teen cinema in which girls cannot be simultaneously marginalized, visible, and have grand adventures.

Given that each girl in The Craft has suffered, their coming together as a group is joyous. The girls skip school to perform an initiation rite in an open field. Everything about this scene, from the warm lighting to the Juliana Hatfield soundtrack, with the lyrics, “Danger is great joy / Dark is bright as fire / Happy is our family / Lonely is the ward,” suggests a palpable sense of relief in the girls from their troubles. Gilbert points out that the girls recall the lyrics of the song by referring to one another as “sisters, rather than simply friends” (2002: 58), and this leads them to swear to form their coven with perfect love and perfect trust. The atmosphere is so intimate and tranquil that Bonnie shrugs off her cardigan to enjoy the sun on her skin. Approving of their solidarity, Manon sends down a flock of butterflies.

The Craft both uses and subverts teen film tropes relating to girls’ beauty, visibility, and power. One scene shows the coven striding confidently through a courtyard at school. At this point their clothing is form-fitting and it exposes more of their skin; the appearance of each, as Mulvey put is, is “coded for strong visual and erotic impact” (1975: 11). Audiences with knowledge of the codes and conventions of feminine transformation narratives will read these fashion changes as meaning that the members of the coven have become more socially powerful. Their images align much more with the male gaze which is usually implied to either result from, or result in, their increased happiness and confidence after realizing their magical powers. However, in light of the generic expectations in teen film, this moment has two unusual features. The first is that no one in the scene itself is looking at the coven. The convention in teen film of this period is that when a change has occurred which confers power on girl characters, there will be reaction shots from other students to impress on the audience that the girls now hold sway in the school. These shots can encompass anything from looks of interest to double takes. For example, in the teen horror comedy Ginger Snaps (2000), when gothic outcast Ginger comes into her sexuality as a result of being given the curse of lycanthropy, she struts down a school hallway to wolf-whistles and lustful looks from numerous boys while her sister looks on aghast. By comparison, in The Craft, the coven’s increased self-confidence and unity goes unnoticed and unremarked upon by the other students.

That none of the other students notice the coven’s improved sense of self (and more stylish and provocative clothing) is consistent with The Craft’s lack of interest in notions of popularity. The Craft is noteworthy for its lack of what Roz Kaveney terms an “anthropology shot” (2006: 3). The phrase refers to a trope in teen film through which a newcomer to a school is informed about its various cliques whose respective places in the social strata are outlined. For example, in the teen horror thriller Disturbing Behavior (1998), the cliques include motorheads, geeks, skaters, hippies, popular kids, and outcasts even though only the latter two groups play any role in the film’s narrative. The extraneous groups constitute the social landscape by indicating exactly how many other people the protagonist will have to eclipse or win over in order to achieve popularity. In The Craft, the coven members are, variously, poor, black, mentally ill, sexually promiscuous, survivors of trauma and abuse, physically scarred, and children of dysfunctional families. These facets of who they are effectively bar the coven from ascending to popularity, even with the use of magic. Thus, the film suggests that their precise place in the hierarchy is not worth dwelling on outside of the fact that they are pariahs. The Craft, at least, acknowledges that as long as popularity hinges on being middle-class, normatively bodied, white, (hetero)sexually chaste, and mentally healthy, many girls will be barred from achieving this subjectivity. It also acknowledges that, for better or worse, some girls want nothing out of their high school experiences other than to get by relatively unscathed while finding like-minded friends. This is an aspect of contemporary girlhood rarely explored in teen film that usually hinges on a never-ending quest for popularity.

The second notable aspect of the slow-motion walk through the quadrangle is that the camera lingers on the girls before closing in on Sarah’s looking elated at being included in such a spectacular group. Compare this with a visually similar scene in Mean Girls (2004) in which Cady states, in voice-over: “Being with The Plastics was like being famous. People looked at you all the time, and everybody just knew stuff about you.” Cady does not keep company with the Plastics because she genuinely likes them. Indeed, the possibility of there being anything to like about the Plastics is not explored; Cady has infiltrated their group both as part of a secret revenge plot and for the social benefits it affords her. In The Craft, Sarah enjoys being with the coven not only because they have helped her realize her powers, but because they are her friends. This contextualizes Sarah’s devastation after her friendships with Nancy, Rochelle, and Bonnie break down. The depiction of Sarah’s delight in her friends’ company serve to heighten the dread she experiences after the schism.

“If a Witch Betrayed Her Coven”: The Breakdown of the Girls’ Friendship

The initiation and quadrangle scenes contrast with a later sequence in which the girls tear around the city in Nancy’s car after Nancy has killed Ray by stopping his heart. Using Ray’s life insurance money, Nancy and her mother, Grace, have moved into a penthouse apartment and at last have the material comforts for which they have always longed, yet Grace’s parenting is still erratic and inept. Moving out of poverty has not made Nancy happy and it has not quelled her anger. Because of this, Nancy no longer considers the members of the coven to be her sisters; Nancy views Rochelle and Bonnie as sycophants and Sarah as a rival for leadership. To prove her invincibility and to silence Sarah’s opposition to her increasingly unethical uses of magic, Nancy purposely runs a red light, endangering their lives. Sarah knows she is partially to blame for all of this, since “her role in showing the other girls how they can … get what they want makes her responsible for the dangerous powers they harness” (Shary 2002: 177). Rather than the mean girls granting the protagonist power and the protagonist feeling indebted to them, in this instance Sarah imparts power to the coven and feels pleasure in her ability to improve her friends’ life circumstances. Her dilemma arises from their abuse of the power she has granted them.

The Craft’s portrayal of bullying and aggression within a group of adolescent outcasts is, again, unusual in American teen film. Many teen films about outsiders, such as The Hairy Bird (1998)1 and Can’t Hardly Wait (1998), depict unpopular teenagers as having much closer, more devoted friendships than do popular people as long as they are able to resist the temptation to pursue popularity. Sarah and Nancy clash not out of a desire to become popular, but out of a combination of frustration with their own lives and disagreements about how they should wield their powers. By showing that misfits are not exempt from conflict within their cliques, The Craft presents a sobering reality of adolescent life.

The Craft also depicts shifting loyalties and uncertainties in adolescent girls’ friendships. Sarah’s self-esteem is undoubtedly improved by her membership in the coven, but this neither erases nor excuses their later treatment of her. This stands out against a filmic tradition of representing girls’ bonds as either harmonious or antagonistic. Both these discourses of girlhood friendship ignore the changing dynamics and circumstances that occur within friendships. As Barnard observes, girls and women are expected to “stay best friends for ever … [or] it means our judgment was suspect when we chose each other in the first place” (2011: 78). This recalls the cultural obsession with true and abiding romantic heterosexual love with girls being encouraged to define themselves by the presence of “one Boyfriend and one Best Friend” (Sweeney 2008: 118).

The Craft represents the breakdown of a formerly empowering friendship; it is intriguing in terms of its understanding of the nuances of girls’ intimacy and aggression. Sarah relies on her friends for the acceptance she craves, which makes their later victimization of her devastating. They use Sarah’s secrets against her, reminding Sarah of what defiance has cost her. For example, at the climax of the film (discussed in detail later), the coven torments Sarah by threatening to kill her and make it appear to be suicide. Sarah is made to regret the trust she placed in them. The coven are terrifying in a way that most mean girl characters in teen film cannot be because they show Sarah as much cruelty as they once showed her love.

One of the ways in which this is done is in a scene in which the coven does not use magic against Sarah. This stands out among the film’s numerous set pieces of the girls working spells with progressively more stunning results. Prior to officially forming their coven, the girls’ first use of magic as a group is to cause a car to hit a homeless man who is harassing Sarah. After officially forming their coven, they play the traditional sleepover game “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” (in which players surround a person and attempt to lift her or him into the air using only their fingertips), and succeed in levitating Rochelle. Later, Manon imbues Nancy with his power, which she uses to walk on water and beach dozens of sharks on the sand. Increasing in size and majesty as the narrative progresses, these spells take on additional meaning in the context of the strength of the girls’ bond and, later, the enormity for Sarah of their schism.

In the aftermath of Sarah’s break with the coven, the presence and absence of magic onscreen augments the film’s central theme—girls’ fear of exile. The Craft portrays girls using “a surface of sweetness to hurt each other … [thereby avoiding] detection and punishment” (Simmons 2002: 22). This makes The Craft a compelling portrayal of the sway the tyranny of niceness holds over girls’ lives. The tyranny of niceness is the pervasive idea, as Brown and Gilligan (1992) argue, that in order to be considered worthy of inclusion, attention, praise, and love, females must not express negative thoughts or feelings. Since there is no acknowledgement that defiance is often necessary for mental and physical well-being, it makes girls less able to advocate for themselves. It also causes girls to express aggression in ways that may not be apparent to outsiders, such as spreading rumors, ignoring or excluding someone, or threatening to withdraw friendship unless a friend agrees to some request or ultimatum.

This construct is portrayed with startling accuracy in the scene in which the coven corner Sarah in the girls’ toilets. Bonnie and Rochelle smirk as Nancy asks after Sarah in mock concern. Nancy insinuates that if Sarah does not end her own life, they will be honor-bound to kill her themselves, as witches did in “the old days.” She implies that she can read Sarah’s mind and thus anticipate her movements. In this instance, Nancy’s power over Sarah is not magical, but psychological. Even as the coven harasses Sarah, they pantomime interest in her well-being and pleasure in her company; this serves as a disturbing reminder of the emotional support they once offered. Their use of nonspecific language to threaten Sarah allows them to remain blameless and their victimization of Sarah is framed as a matter of principle, justifying their aggression while allowing them to remain fundamentally good. The Craft is not merely about a girl who is pursued by evil forces: the true horror of the film is that these evil forces were once her best friends.

“A Tremendous Light”: Girls’ Uses of Power

In the film’s final third, Sarah turns to Lirio (Assumpta Serna), the kindly proprietor of the shop where the girls obtain their magic books and supplies. Lirio tells Sarah that they must “invoke the Spirit” in order to stop the coven tormenting her. However, the coven conjures an illusion of a fiery explosion engulfing the shop, causing Sarah to flee before Lirio can begin the ritual. When Sarah arrives home, the coven creates a false news bulletin on her television, tricking Sarah into believing that her father and stepmother have died in a plane crash. Sarah’s house fills with insects, snakes, and rats, recalling the hallucinations that preceded her suicide attempt (about which Sarah had confided in Nancy prior to the breakdown of their friendship). Panicking, Sarah blunders through the house, climbing into the bath in order to escape the horrifying sights. At this moment, Nancy pulls back the shower curtain and sneers, “If I were you, I’d have killed myself ages ago. You should get on it.” She departs, leaving Sarah to stumble back through the now vermin-free house to the coven waiting downstairs.

The glamour spells that Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle create are as awesome as they are terrifying, but, ultimately, they are only illusions. I read this as emblematic of the common conception of bullying girls as wielding enormous influence in the face of girls’ relative social and political powerlessness. In popular culture, girls’ covert aggression is imagined as “the ultimate form of power” (Currie 2009: 34). It is “supreme” because it is “invisible” (D. Miller 2008: 155). Conceiving of covert aggression in this way ignores historical precedents suggesting that “[a]lternative aggressions are, fundamentally, weapons of the weak.” Historically, disenfranchised groups such as “slaves and indentured servants … women before legal divorce … and working women … [with] abusive bosses” (Chesney-Lind 2004: 51) have not been permitted to show aggression to the people who oppress them. Marginalized people may vent frustration without suffering retribution only if there is a degree of plausible deniability to their actions. Covert aggression does not constitute ultimate power, but is, rather, a response to physical or psychological repression.

At the film’s climax, Nancy slashes Sarah’s wrists and conjures up a suicide note in Sarah’s handwriting. If The Craft is an allegory of a girl’s despair following the breakdown of her relationship with her friends, this scene reads as the lowest point in Sarah’s depression. In an allegorical representation of a bullied teenager reaching out to her parents, Sarah invokes “the powers of Mother and Earth.” Her mother’s spirit smiles from the photo on Sarah’s dresser (suggesting that she does not hold Sarah responsible for her death) and implores, “Don’t be afraid. Reach inside yourself.” With her mother’s blessing, Sarah prevents herself from bleeding to death. She casts glamour spells to frighten Bonnie and Rochelle into fleeing. Transfiguring Nancy’s body into a mass of insects and snakes, Sarah says coolly, “[Rochelle and Bonnie] rushed out … without saying goodbye. It’s bad manners.” This use of language intimates that, in running from the fearsome images Sarah conjured up, it is Bonnie and Rochelle who are to blame. Her mimicry of Nancy’s bullying methods implies that Sarah has learned to exploit niceness as a weapon, as do other girls. The imperative for even morally upright girls to deploy these strategies for self-defense is another facet of girlhood rarely depicted onscreen. As Brown stresses, Sarah turning the tyranny of niceness to her advantage is not represented as “a biological necessity, a developmental stage, or a rite of passage … [but as] a protective strategy and an avenue to power” (2003: 6).

After conquering Nancy and coming to terms with her guilt at her mother’s death, Sarah becomes grounded and guarded. While the other girls lose their powers, Sarah’s intensify. Sue Short claims that

although the film briefly provides a sympathetic view of female kinship, it warns chiefly against rivalries and the disaster that female power can bring. … Sarah is placed on the ‘right’ path of emotional development, yet one that is rooted in a denial of her power, having proven her virtue and sanity in contrast to Nancy’s malevolence (2006: 93).

I maintain that, rather than a straightforward denunciation of homosocial bonding, the film’s representation of friends becoming enemies enhances the horror of its narrative and accounts for its relevance to girl audiences. Furthermore, there is no indication that Sarah is going to abandon witchcraft simply because her friendship group has dissolved. (The film established earlier that Sarah was able to use magic prior to becoming part of a coven, albeit in an unpracticed and impromptu way, such as temporarily losing her hearing through longing for quiet.)

Godwin holds that at the film’s conclusion, Sarah has been “safely disciplined into a passive normative ‘feminine’ gender role,” her identity “defined by her obedient relationship to Manon, the male source of all witches’ power in the film” (2012: 94). However, when Sarah seeks Lirio’s help near the climax of the film, Lirio says, “Sarah, you have a tremendous light inside you, more so than any witch I’ve ever known. You must not be afraid. … [Your mother is] telling you to be strong. She was a witch too, of course.”

When Nancy is imbued with Manon’s powers, she calls out, “I can feel you in me! I am your daughter now.” This positions Nancy “in Christlike terms, but as a perversion, an anti-Christ of sorts” (P. Thomas 2009: 225). Sarah and Nancy are depicted as opposite sides of the same coin. While Sarah does not reject Manon and the power he offers, she is not only his obedient acolyte, she is her mother’s spiritual successor. Hence, her standing alone at the film’s conclusion can be read as unsettling from a patriarchal perspective.

The idea that the film’s ending represents a straightforward return to patriarchal control is further complicated by the fact that Sarah is situated as an aloof, almost threatening figure. Flinty-eyed and unsmiling, she warns Bonnie and Rochelle, “Careful. You don’t want to end up like Nancy.” This is followed by a cut to Nancy, held in restraints on a hospital bed, raving incoherently. This ending, with Nancy conquered, Rochelle and Bonnie cowed and Sarah standing alone plays into neoliberal feminist ideas of girlhood. Within a neoliberal feminist paradigm, empowerment is framed as the default state for girls, serving to “direct attention from structural explanations for inequality” (Gonick 2006: 2), thus positioning feminism as outmoded and unnecessary.

According to the film’s Wicca consultant, Pat Devin, the original ending involved Bonnie and Rochelle joining forces with Sarah to defeat Nancy, resulting in Nancy’s death. Devin contacted the film’s screenwriter to argue that “Nancy, who had been abused, neglected, molested and finally driven mad … was not intrinsically evil and did not deserve to die,” resulting in script rewrites (Yohalem 1997). The options in both scenarios are arguably restrictive: either three of the girls can unite to vanquish the fourth, or all four girls can live and their coven is splintered. Both endings refute the possibility of these girls working together to change the world, but the filmed ending arguably does acknowledge the seismic shift that the friendship breakdown caused in these girls’ lives. All that is clear is that nothing in the lives of Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie, or Rochelle can return to the way it was.

Conclusion

The Craft is significant in terms of its representation of the breakdown of a friendship, its depiction of the complex machinations of the limitations of power and privilege in the school environment, and its commitment to taking seriously adolescent girls’ fears of isolation and rejection. As a mainstream Hollywood teen film, The Craft’s depiction of girls as disenfranchised by structural inequalities is notable when read against an overwhelming tendency in popular culture to dismiss teenage girls’ concerns and anger as trivial.

In The Craft’s second act, Lirio tells the coven, “True magic is neither black, nor white. It’s both because nature is both. Loving and cruel, all at the same time.” Lirio could well be describing the realities of girlhood. Patriarchy holds girls to impossible standards of goodness, denouncing them for even experiencing negative emotions, let alone expressing them. Situating girls as either wholly vindictive or as paragons of sisterhood cannot speak to the complexities of girls’ bonds. While the film does not provide a rationale for Sarah to heal from her experience, or for the other girls to redeem themselves, the mere fact that the coven believably serve as Sarah’s saviors and as the instigators of her near-downfall takes a step toward honoring how strange, joyous, and painful girlhood can be.

Note
1

The Hairy Bird was retitled Strike! in Canada and All I Wanna Do in the United States but retained its original title in Australia.

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  • Brown, Lyn Mikel. 1998. Raising Their Voices: The Politics of Girls’ Anger. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Brown, Lyn Mikel. 2003. Girlfighting: Betrayal and Rejection Among Girls. New York: New York University Press.

  • Chesney-Lind, Meda, and Katherine Irwin. 2004. “From Badness to Meanness: Popular Constructions of Contemporary Girlhood.” Pp. 4556 in All About the Girl: Culture, Power and Identity, ed. Anita Harris. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Craig, Pamela, and Martin Fradley. 2010. “Youth, Affective Politics, and the Contemporary American Horror Film.” Pp. 77102 in American Horror Film: The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium, ed. Steffen Hantke. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Currie, Dawn H., Deirdre M. Kelly, and Shauna Pomerantz. 2009. ‘Girl Power’: Girls Reinventing Girlhood. New York: Peter Lang.

  • Edwards, Emily D. 2005. “Evil, Enchanting, Divine, and Ecstatic: A Century of Witches in Moving Images.” Pp. 73130 in Metaphysical Media: The Occult Experience in Popular Culture. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Etsy. 2016. “Top categories for ‘the craft witch movie’.” https://www.etsy.com/au/search?q=the+craft+witch+movie&page=1 (accessed 20 January 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gilbert, Stefanie C., and J. Kevin Thompson. 2002. “Body Shame in Childhood and Adolescence: Relations to General Psychological Functioning and Eating Disorders.” Pp. 5574 in Body Shame: Conceptualisation, Research and Treatment, ed. Paul Gilbert and Jeremy Miles. East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychosocial Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Godwin, Victoria L. 2012. “Love and Lack: Media, Witches, and Normative Gender Roles.” Pp. 91102 in Media Depictions of Brides, Wives, and Mothers, ed. Alena Amato Ruggerio. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gonick, Marnina. 2006. “Between Girl Power and Reviving Ophelia: Constituting the Neoliberal Girl Subject.” National Women’s Studies Association Journal 18, no. 2:122. doi: 10.1353/nwsa.2006.0031

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johnston, Hannah E. 2007. “Vanquishing the Victim: Discourses of Dis/empowerment in 1990s Teenage Witchcraft.” Pp. 97112 in The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture, ed. Peg Aloi and Hannah E. Johnston. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kaveney, Roz. 2006. Teen Dreams: Reading Teen Film and Television from ‘Heathers’ to ‘Veronica Mars’. London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.

  • Leblanc, Lauraine. 1999. Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

  • Maerz, Melissa. 2010. “Goth Gets Adorable.” SPIN, 36.

  • Miller, DeAnn Valorie. 2008. “Queenbees and Wannabees: The Struggle for Power Through Bullying in Adolescent Girls.” PhD diss., Iowa State University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moss, Gabrielle. 2006. “Teen Mean Fighting Machine: Why Does the Media Love Mean Girls?” Pp. 4348 in BITCHfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine, ed. Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mulvey, Laura. 1975. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16, no. 3: 618. doi: 10.1093/screen/16.3.6.

  • Pipher, Mary. 1994. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Ballantine.

  • Purcell, Camille, Ed Drewett, Edvard Forre Erfjord, and Henrik Michelsen. Black Magic. Columbia Records, 2015.

  • San Filippo, Maria. 2013. “Power Play/s: Bisexuality as Privilege and Pathology in Sexploitation Cinema.” Pp. 94151 in The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shary, Timothy. 2002. Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

  • Short, Sue. 2006. Misfit Sisters: Screen Horror as Female Rites of Passage. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Simmons, Rachel. 2002. Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. New York: Harcourt.

  • Spooner, Catherine. 2004. Fashioning Gothic Bodies. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.

  • Stabile, Carol A. (2011). “Review Essay: ‘First He’ll Kill Her, Then I’ll Save Her’: Vampires, Feminism, and the Twilight Franchise.” Journal of Communication 61: E4. doi 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01534.x.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • StageTube. 2013. “MEGA STAGE TUBE: Listen to THE CRAFT - THE MUSICAL Demos; Set for NYC Reading This Year.” http://www.broadwayworld.com/article/MEGA-STAGE-TUBE-Listen-to-THE-CRAFT-THE-MUSICAL-Demos-Set-for-NYC-Reading-This-Year-20130523 (accessed 12 September 2015).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stephens, John. 2003. “Witch-Figures in Recent Children’s Fiction: The Subaltern and the Subversive.” Pp. 195204 in The Presence of the Past in Children’s Literature, ed. Ann Lawson Lucas. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sweeney, Kathleen. 2008. Maiden USA: Girl Icons Come of Age. New York: Peter Lang.

  • Thomas, Paul. 2009. “New Religious Movements.” Pp. 214234 in The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film, ed. John Lyden. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yohalem, John. 1997. “Interview with Pat Devin on the Movie, “The Craft”.” http://web.archive.org/web/19991012153145/http://cog.org/nextgen/thecraft.html (accessed 25 August 2014).

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Filmography

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Contributor Notes

Emily Chandler is a PhD candidate in the School of the Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales. She works in the fields of media studies and girlhood studies. She is currently completing her dissertation on representations of girlhood in American children’s television animation, examining Recess (1997–2003), Daria (1997–2001) and As Told by Ginger (2000–2004).

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • Avery, Dan. 2013. ““The Craft” Cast Reunites at Cemetery Screening in Los Angeles: PHOTOS.” http://www.newnownext.com/the-craft-cast-reunites-at-cemetery-screening-in-los-angeles-photos/10/2013/ (accessed 20 July 2015).

    • Export Citation
  • Ballantyne, Brooke. 2008. “Goth Girls.” Pp. 331333 in Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia, ed. Jacqueline Reid-Walsh and Claudia A. Mitchell. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Barnard, Josie. 2011. The Book of Friendship. London: Virago.

  • Blistein, Jon. 2015. “High School Horror Flick ‘The Craft’ Remake in the Works.” http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/high-school-horror-flick-the-craft-remake-in-the-works-20150514 (accessed 14 May 2015).

    • Export Citation
  • Brennan, Judy. 1996. “‘The Craft’ Has the Knack for Scaring Up an Audience.” Los Angeles Times, 6 May. http://articles.latimes.com/1996-05-06/entertainment/ca-1108_1_sony-pictures (accessed 5 May 2015).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brown, Lyn Mikel, and Carol Gilligan. 1992. Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brown, Lyn Mikel. 1998. Raising Their Voices: The Politics of Girls’ Anger. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Brown, Lyn Mikel. 2003. Girlfighting: Betrayal and Rejection Among Girls. New York: New York University Press.

  • Chesney-Lind, Meda, and Katherine Irwin. 2004. “From Badness to Meanness: Popular Constructions of Contemporary Girlhood.” Pp. 4556 in All About the Girl: Culture, Power and Identity, ed. Anita Harris. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Craig, Pamela, and Martin Fradley. 2010. “Youth, Affective Politics, and the Contemporary American Horror Film.” Pp. 77102 in American Horror Film: The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium, ed. Steffen Hantke. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Currie, Dawn H., Deirdre M. Kelly, and Shauna Pomerantz. 2009. ‘Girl Power’: Girls Reinventing Girlhood. New York: Peter Lang.

  • Edwards, Emily D. 2005. “Evil, Enchanting, Divine, and Ecstatic: A Century of Witches in Moving Images.” Pp. 73130 in Metaphysical Media: The Occult Experience in Popular Culture. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Etsy. 2016. “Top categories for ‘the craft witch movie’.” https://www.etsy.com/au/search?q=the+craft+witch+movie&page=1 (accessed 20 January 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gilbert, Stefanie C., and J. Kevin Thompson. 2002. “Body Shame in Childhood and Adolescence: Relations to General Psychological Functioning and Eating Disorders.” Pp. 5574 in Body Shame: Conceptualisation, Research and Treatment, ed. Paul Gilbert and Jeremy Miles. East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychosocial Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Godwin, Victoria L. 2012. “Love and Lack: Media, Witches, and Normative Gender Roles.” Pp. 91102 in Media Depictions of Brides, Wives, and Mothers, ed. Alena Amato Ruggerio. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gonick, Marnina. 2006. “Between Girl Power and Reviving Ophelia: Constituting the Neoliberal Girl Subject.” National Women’s Studies Association Journal 18, no. 2:122. doi: 10.1353/nwsa.2006.0031

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johnston, Hannah E. 2007. “Vanquishing the Victim: Discourses of Dis/empowerment in 1990s Teenage Witchcraft.” Pp. 97112 in The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture, ed. Peg Aloi and Hannah E. Johnston. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kaveney, Roz. 2006. Teen Dreams: Reading Teen Film and Television from ‘Heathers’ to ‘Veronica Mars’. London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.

  • Leblanc, Lauraine. 1999. Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

  • Maerz, Melissa. 2010. “Goth Gets Adorable.” SPIN, 36.

  • Miller, DeAnn Valorie. 2008. “Queenbees and Wannabees: The Struggle for Power Through Bullying in Adolescent Girls.” PhD diss., Iowa State University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moss, Gabrielle. 2006. “Teen Mean Fighting Machine: Why Does the Media Love Mean Girls?” Pp. 4348 in BITCHfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine, ed. Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mulvey, Laura. 1975. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16, no. 3: 618. doi: 10.1093/screen/16.3.6.

  • Pipher, Mary. 1994. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Ballantine.

  • Purcell, Camille, Ed Drewett, Edvard Forre Erfjord, and Henrik Michelsen. Black Magic. Columbia Records, 2015.

  • San Filippo, Maria. 2013. “Power Play/s: Bisexuality as Privilege and Pathology in Sexploitation Cinema.” Pp. 94151 in The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shary, Timothy. 2002. Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

  • Short, Sue. 2006. Misfit Sisters: Screen Horror as Female Rites of Passage. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Simmons, Rachel. 2002. Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. New York: Harcourt.

  • Spooner, Catherine. 2004. Fashioning Gothic Bodies. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.

  • Stabile, Carol A. (2011). “Review Essay: ‘First He’ll Kill Her, Then I’ll Save Her’: Vampires, Feminism, and the Twilight Franchise.” Journal of Communication 61: E4. doi 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01534.x.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • StageTube. 2013. “MEGA STAGE TUBE: Listen to THE CRAFT - THE MUSICAL Demos; Set for NYC Reading This Year.” http://www.broadwayworld.com/article/MEGA-STAGE-TUBE-Listen-to-THE-CRAFT-THE-MUSICAL-Demos-Set-for-NYC-Reading-This-Year-20130523 (accessed 12 September 2015).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stephens, John. 2003. “Witch-Figures in Recent Children’s Fiction: The Subaltern and the Subversive.” Pp. 195204 in The Presence of the Past in Children’s Literature, ed. Ann Lawson Lucas. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sweeney, Kathleen. 2008. Maiden USA: Girl Icons Come of Age. New York: Peter Lang.

  • Thomas, Paul. 2009. “New Religious Movements.” Pp. 214234 in The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film, ed. John Lyden. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yohalem, John. 1997. “Interview with Pat Devin on the Movie, “The Craft”.” http://web.archive.org/web/19991012153145/http://cog.org/nextgen/thecraft.html (accessed 25 August 2014).

    • Export Citation
  • Burge, Constance M. 1998–2006. Charmed. USA.

  • Daniels, Lee. 2009. Precious. USA.

  • Fawcett, John. 2000. Ginger Snaps. Canada.

  • Fleming, Andrew. 1996. The Craft. USA.

  • Harlin, Renny. 2006. The Covenant. USA.

  • Kaplan, Deborah, and Harry Elfont. 1998. Can’t Hardly Wait. USA.

  • Kernochan, Sarah. 1998. The Hairy Bird. USA.

  • Krauss, Ron. 2013. Gimme Shelter. USA.

  • Lehmann, Michael. 1988. Heathers. USA.

  • McKee, Lucky, and Chris Sivertson. 2014. All Cheerleaders Die. USA.

  • Miller, Andrew. 2011–2012. The Secret Circle. USA.

  • Nutter, David. 1998. Disturbing Behavior. USA.

  • Rash, Steve. 2006. Bring It On: All or Nothing. USA.

  • Rodriguez, Robert. 1998. The Faculty. USA.

  • Sichel, Alex. 1997. All Over Me. USA.

  • Stein, Darren. 1999. Jawbreaker. USA.

  • Thomas, Betty. 2006. John Tucker Must Die. USA.

  • Waters, Mark. 2004. Mean Girls. USA.

  • Whedon, Joss. 1997–2003. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. USA.

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