There are many things The Craft has taught us, and will probably continue to do so with every re-viewing. But among the most salient of lessons we can apprehend from it is the inevitable dangers and resentments of forcing oneself into friendships of a repressive nature for the mere sake of not being alone. This is exactly what Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) feels compelled to do upon arriving in Los Angeles from San Francisco to a new Catholic prep school, where her fellow students seem to be equally as aloof toward her as those in Northern California.
Her angst is briefly quelled by the requisite football jock, Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich), taking an interest in her long enough to give her the spiel about who to avoid in the school, specifically, Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie Hyper (Neve Campbell) and Rochelle Zimmerman (Rachel True)–all rumored to be witches a part of their own exclusive and exclusionary coven. Not wanting to seem as though she would deign to associate with such riffraff, Sarah mentions how rude they were to her in science class, a complaint he eventually uses to lead in to “So What are you doing after school?” Sarah non-coyly replies, “Nothing I guess,” to which Chris then abruptly reveals his true colors by asserting, “I’m busy. Football practice. You can come and watch.”
Feigning disinterest, Sarah eventually does find herself over by the football field, ogling from afar. But her cliche behavior is marred by the appearance of the trio mocking her overt devotion, as Nancy warns, “He comes on to anything with tits, Sarah.” Not wanting to turn down the potential for having friends (the first instance of where all Sarah’s problems arise), she agrees to go shopping with them using their “five finger discount.” And though the shopping in question may take place near Melrose, it has nothing to do with clothes, so much as needed witch supplies. The proprietor of the store, Lirio (Assumpta Serna), a maternal seeming woman who can immediately tell that Sarah is the “good” witch of the quartet, encourages, “You’re a natural witch. Your power comes from within.”
As they head out of the shop and into the night, the same vagrant wielding a snake who previously harassed Sarah within the confines of her own home comes across her on Hollywood Boulevard, where he warns of her death if she isn’t careful. Her fear, combined with the protective instinct of her so-called friends, they believe, is what wills a car to crash into him as he chases after her. Convinced that they’ve finally conjured ultimate power with their “fourth element,” the coven starts to get into some deeply bizarre territory, that which creeps Sarah out as she warily demands, “Do you guys worship the devil?” They (Fairuza) balk at her, telling her that what they worship is Manon, a being even older than the man-made invention of god. Still harboring some sense of her own identity, Sarah flees the scene.
The next night, she finds herself, to her own amazement, hanging out with Chris, who tells her he’s surprised she came–he figured she’d gone to the dark side with those witches with the “weird heads.” But Sarah’s enamored state is soon shaken the next day when rumor has traveled that she’s the worst lay Chris has ever had–something he spread around all because she wouldn’t go beyond the makeout phase. Now firmly in the camp of the witches after this betrayal, Sarah is more willing than ever to go along with anyone who will show the slightest amount of respect for her. It is, in truth, often the case that a girl will go running back to the pack of females she tried to ditch for a man out of sheer desperation, and a desire not to be fully on her own.
It is thus that Sarah begins to find herself in scenarios she might never have allowed before, such as casting a spell to help make racist bully/archetypal popular girl Laura Lizzie’s (Christine Taylor) hair fall out in retaliation for the way she’s been treating Rochelle. Or to indirectly cause the death of Nancy’s deadbeat stepfather so that she can fulfill the wish to be rich and powerful instead of “white trash” by capitalizing on his life insurance policy. But at the outset, it all feels so good, like she’s finally experiencing genuine feminine unity (this, too, describes and foreshadows Cady Heron in Mean Girls). That is, until Nancy decides to “invoke the spirit” a.k.a. Manon at the beach one night, causing a chain reaction of bad events and generally stripping her of all sense of compassion and affinity.
From there, the digression into pure evil is complete: Bonnie is consumed by vanity as a result of her recent surgery that, thanks to magic, got rid of all her burn scars and Rochelle is increasingly satisfied by the worsening state of Laura’s appearance (clearly, looks are everything in high school). Just when Sarah starts to fully realize how out of hand it’s all getting, she makes the mistake of confiding in the others that the love spell she cast on Chris drove him to attempt raping her. Nancy seizes upon the opportunity to not only take vengeance on him for the way he treated her in the past, but also to use one of her newly acquired skills: glamoring. By the time Sarah gets to them at Chris’ party, she’s already transformed into her image, fooling Chris into sleeping with her. The denouement of this scene does not end well for Chris, who Nancy sees as a representation of all men as she wails, “The only way you know how to treat women is by treating them like whores!”
Wanting to “leave the circle,” but not sure how without further exacerbating matters, Sarah tries to go to Lirio for help, but her fear of invoking the spirit herself is initially too great–for, as she’s said, “Everything I touch turns to shit.” However, pushed to her breaking point–and the limits of “friendship”–Sarah is able to free herself from the shackles of peer pressure, being used and feeling generally insecure. As Lirio says, “True magic is neither black nor white. It’s both, because nature is both. Loving and cruel, all at the same time.” The same tends to go for interpersonal relationships of any value.