Welcome to the 90s, when Neve Campbell was everywhere.
High Schooler Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to Los Angeles with her father (Cliff DeYoung) and stepmother. She quickly draws the eye of the three local “witch girls:” Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie (Neve Campbell), and Rochelle (Rachel True). The three need a fourth to complete their circle and discover that Sarah has natural abilities. They ask her to join them and explain their deity, a primordial force called “Manon.” At the same time, Sarah goes out with Chris (Skeet Ulrich), a local boy, who immediately proves himself to be a crapbag. The four witches each cast a spell to help them get what they want, but they soon find out that magic can have a lot more consequences than they expect. Deadly consequences.
So, I was given the choice by request between either this or Practical Magic. I chose this and I regret nothing. I first saw this movie when I was 12 and thus started my crush on Neve Campbell and, thanks to her and Fairuza Balk’s Nancy, goth chicks in general. It was fairly formative, is what I’m saying. Despite that, I do have to acknowledge that this isn’t the greatest movie, but it’s probably top of my list of “young girl gets supernatural powers and hijinks/mayhem ensue,” slightly edging out Blake Lively’s sister Robyn in the 1985 movie Teen Witch. This movie is significantly darker than that one, of course, but I still consider them in similar veins.
Actually, it’s the darker elements that make me remember this movie. First, we see the darkness that drives each of our main four girls. Sarah feels guilty because her mom died giving birth to her and thinks her dad resents her, leading her to be suicidal and depressed. Nancy lives in a trailer with her mom and abusive step-dad. Bonnie has severe burns on her body that she feels make her a monster. Rochelle is mistreated by Laura (Christine “Marcia Marcia Marcia” Taylor), the racist captain of the dive team. Each of these background stories is wildly more exaggerated than most films would do, but since it’s a movie with real magic, the disbelief is already suspended. Then, we see the decline of each of the girls as they indulge in their fantasies. Sarah enjoys teasing Chris who is now in love with her. Nancy gets a nice new apartment and gets rid of her step-dad, but starts to crave power. Bonnie becomes vain from her new appearance (although, this one is more implied than shown, since she still looks like Neve Campbell in the 90s). Rochelle gets revenge, but eventually regrets it so much her own reflection won’t look at her. It’s a basic plot, but it’s just how far they’re willing to take each storyline that sets it apart.
Mostly, though, it’s the aesthetics and the insane imagery that make this movie. The costumes evolve with the characters, going darker as the characters do. Then there are shots that just come out of nowhere, like a toilet full of mealworms or a beach full of dead sharks. They’re powerful images that stick with you. The CGI is very ‘90s (AKA bad), but many of the practical effects shots are solid and hold up well. Again, it’s how over-the-top the film is willing to go that matters.
Overall, I still liked this movie. It’s not going to win any awards for best screenplay, but it was the second best movie with Skeet Ulrich and Neve Campbell that came out in 1996 (admittedly, comparing it to Scream might be a tad unfair).
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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