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Covenant, The Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Image Not quite a thriller. Not really a horror flick. Definitely a piece of poop. Trailers for “The Covenant” showed promise of being a sort of “The Lost Boys” meets “The Craft” with an updated “Underworld” tonality. The product is more like a 97-minute straight-to-video “Dawson’s Creek” Halloween Special. Sorry, no cult classic here. It’s not even entertaining in a “so-bad-it’s-good” kind of way. Just so bad, it’s rancid. The story, acting, and special effects make it feel like a rejected pilot from the CW network. And while I may not be in “The Covenant’s” target demographic, even shows like the CW’s “Supernatural” carry loads more scares, thrills, and respectability, while still maintaining their teen market sensibilities. There’s no excuse here. This is unadulterated garbage from Hollywood hack director, Renny Harlin (“Exorcist: The Beginning,” “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane”) and direct-to-DVD veteran writer, J.S. Cardone.

A motion-graphics montage, set to a remix of Rob Zombie’s “More Human than Human,” provides the backstory, as well as the cheesy tone to expect from the rest of the film. At the climax of the Salem witch hunts in 1692, five families from the colony of Ipswich formed a covenant of silence in order to stay alive; vowing to keep their magical powers a secret.

Flash forward to the present day at the super-elite Spenser Academy. The youngest descendants of the Ipswich families are four teenage warlocks that look more like Abercrombie & Fitch pin-up models than actual thespians. They are the school’s dark-and-mysterious boys led by the oh-so-handsome Caleb (Steven Strait), with the rest being nothing more than two-dimensional character filler. For example, fellow warlock, Tyler (Chase Crawford), is used so sparingly that you almost forget he’s a part of the group. Reid (Toby Hemingway) is your stereotypical adolescent punk, constantly using and abusing his powers. He exists only as a tool to expose the drawbacks of magical powers. Ah, the troubles of an adolescent warlock. Not only are the powers highly addictive to their user, they also cause premature aging. Maybe this was supposed to be some sort of metaphor for cigarettes or drug abuse, as I found myself waiting for Nancy Reagan to pop in and reintroduce the “Just Say No” program. But that would actually be entertaining, so it never happened. This dilemma is compounded when a warlock turns 18 and “ascends,” when the individual’s powers reach their full potential. With more power comes more addiction, which in turn causes more aging. Get the picture?

Caleb strikes up a love affair with new transfer student, Sarah (Laura Ramsey) while taking mysterious newcomer, Chase (Sebastian Stan) under his wing. That’s when things start to unravel. Caleb begins experiencing disturbing visions associated with a fellow student’s death, which he assumes is linked to hot-headed fellow warlock Reid. Then Sarah experiences a series of haunting episodes. In the film’s one effectively creepy scene, she wakes up in the middle of the night covered in spiders. They begin to enter her nose and ears, eventually burrowing into her skin. The scene is so well done tonally and in terms of special effects, it sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the movie. We never quite get anything as believable or effective from here on.

After Reid denies any involvement in the student’s unsolved murder, Caleb begins to suspect that all these coincidental events may have something to do with Chase’s recent arrival. He does some research in the Ipswich archives revealing that Chase is actually the descendant of the fifth family. Maybe he isn’t the innocent new guy he appears to be?

In case I’ve aroused curiosity to rent or even worse, purchase this flick, I won’t reveal all the twists and turns that bring us to the climax in which Caleb and Chase square off in a highly anticipated confrontation of fully powered warlocks. This is by far the film’s biggest disappointment. Throughout the “The Covenant,” Caleb demonstrates a whole range of abilities, at one point even disassembling and reassembling an entire vehicle within a matter of two seconds in order to avoid a head on collision with a semi. And this is before he realizes the full potential of his powers. One might think this coup de grace would be a grand display of special effects and magical powers never seen before. What we get is a couple teenagers hurling what looks like energy-fused water balloons at each other. Logic would have one asking that if Caleb could manage the car disassembly feat, couldn’t he just… It’s not as if I were holding this film to elite standards or sense of logic, but this is absurd. Even with all its flaws, it still had the potential to win me back with a kick-ass finale. But no, I got a lame water-balloon fight.

The movie is trash but the video quality is superb. Presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio and utilizing the MPEG-2 encoding process, this is a top-tier transfer, sporting excellent contrast and moments of three-dimensional quality. Night scenes borrow heavily from the “Underworld” color palette, showing off a beautiful array of saturated blues. Daytime exteriors aren’t nearly as stylized and show accurate skin tones with plenty of fine detail and sharpness. Some scenes display noticeable grain, not video noise, but isn’t consistent. This leads me to believe that it isn’t a stylistic choice rather an inconsistency in the cinematography. There are other oddities throughout the film, including an exterior scene where at times it seems to be raining, then not. I couldn’t tell if this was bad atmospheric CGI enhancement or someone had made a royal boo-boo. There are numerous effects shots that give the scene an overall soft look, causing it to standout from the sharpness of the rest of the film. This was the biggest distraction for me, the one knock on the film’s overall transfer and quality.

Presented in uncompressed PCM 5.1, “The Covenant” has an impressive soundtrack with great dynamic range, free of hiss and distortion. Action scenes provide the most fun, with heavy bass and sound effects roaring from every channel. So crank it up and enjoy the corniness. Special Features include a commentary track with director Renny Harlin; he goes into depth on the casting process and the allure of such a mythological story. Impossible to take seriously but nonetheless entertaining. The only other feature is a standard 19-minute featurette, which is more or less promotional EPK garbage. The cast and crew shamelessly discharge one-liners about the amazing story and the never-before-seen cinematography. The fact that they can do these interviews with straight faces is a testament to their acting skills. God knows they didn’t use them in the film.

In all honesty, there is one group to which I can recommend “The Covenant” and still live with myself. Girls, age 12 to 17, you’re going to love this little gem. To the rest of you, set aside some time on a lonely Friday night and do a triple feature of the “Lost Boys,” “The Craft,” and “Underworld.” That should do the trick. Even with an excellent transfer and soundtrack, this is a release best left to collect dust on the video store shelf.

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