Troubled teen Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) has moved from her hometown to Los Angeles with her father (Cliff De Young) and stepmother, but when they reach their new house in the middle of a storm they find its roof leaks - not a good omen. She has been enrolled in the local Catholic school and on her first day she doesn't find any friends until Chris (Skeet Ulrich) goes over to her at lunch break and chats her up, but warns her away from the three so-called "witches" who have been rude to her earlier. Little does Sarah know but that term is not entirely inaccurate...
The Craft carried on two traditions that had been with us since the seventies at least, one, that schoolgirls in horror movies are played by actresses in their twenties, and two, that American high school is a closer vision of Hell on Earth than anything in Dante's Inferno. Sarah, being an outsider, finds this out fairly quickly when she agrees to go out with Chris that night, but then won't sleep with him, and just as she has been warned by head witch Nancy (Fairuza Balk) he goes on to spread nasty rumours about her as a form of petty revenge for not having his wicked way with her.
This propels Sarah into the arms of the three girls she had been warned about, and one of them, Bonnie (Neve Campbell), noticed that she could make a pencil stand on end using idly implemented psychic powers, so realises she is perfect to make up the fourth of their coven - one for each point of the compass. Soon Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle (Rachel True) are using a little light sorcery to make their lives better, and they each have a cross to bear which magic can render substantially lighter on their shoulders, but what you'll be wondering is, when will it all go too far?
The Craft was noticeably better characterised than the usual teen horror, with the quartet of females suffering the likes of racism and burn scars that are deeply felt and well handled by the actresses. The manner in which they band together against a hostile world is authentically cheering, it's just that the methods they are using have to be punished by Peter Filardi's disappointingly conservative scripting (director Andrew Fleming had a hand in this as well). Dabbling in witchcraft must be seen as the work of the Devil and must therefore turn you into a bitchy nightmare crazed with your newfound powers.
Earlier on the girls are referred to with a reference to The Witches of Eastwick, yet this is really of the opposite message. Where the Eastwick women united, the Craft girls are torn apart by in-fighting making what was an empowerment tale one of regret and vengeance. So when Sarah, to get back at Chris forced him to fall in obsessive love with her, he becomes a source of embarrassment and finally threat, such are his demands on her attentions and she decides to give up her witchy ways. Bad move, thinks an increasingly overacting and irrational Nancy, and the stage is set for a special effects showdown that fritters away any improving portrayals of female friendship in the service of hackneyed goodies versus baddies shenanigans. A pity, because for a while The Craft was shaping up to be very promising. Music by Graham Revell.