Even the worst movies have something to like about them.
Background: There exists in society a market for just about every type of movie you can imagine, from the silly kiddy fare offered by Disney to the hardest of hardcore offered up by the jaded veterans of Chatsworth, California. Since we all have different levels of expectation and tastes for what we find appealing, your mileage may vary when reading a review because of this. That makes any review suspect since no one can speak to all folks and taking the middle ground all but guarantees the kind of mediocrity you'd expect from one who sits on the fence about everything. Well, today's review of the upcoming release of The Covenant won't be one of those reviews so stick with me for a moment while I explain what type of movie it is, who might like it, and why it works or doesn't work for the supposed market it addresses.
Movie: The Covenant is a movie about a group of gifted teenagers at a high end prep school in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Their families were the founders of the colony hundreds of years ago and the titular covenant was the pact that they made to follow certain rules to keep themselves safe from the puritanical populace in the state. The premise of their gifts is that they are all warlocks, with powers passed down throughout the ages by blood, so the secrets they keep provide them with a measure of security from the mundane mortals that happen to comprise the vast majority of the citizenry. References to Salem's witch hunts are made in the movie and it is clear that secrecy is one of their greatest allies to achieving longevity. So far, so good, right?
Well, like any good fictional piece, the movie establishes the basic "rules" of the Supernatural elements involved. The first is that their powers are not supposed to be used openly, the second that they aren't supposed to talk about them, the third that they have limits based on relative strengths, and the fourth being that on their eighteenth birthdays, they become much stronger. Since each in the group is almost at that magic age (pun intended), they are like most other teens in their desire to become free of their relative shackles of youth (the obvious metaphor being they will be on their own, out to make their destiny with the rest of the universe). This comparison seems natural and one of the main points in the otherwise pointless movie, giving the audience some insight into their own lives by virtue of the ramped up abilities of the four teens, right?
The random tattoos on her back didn't bother me at all.
The quartet of teens is shown to be like most others their age, abusing their abilities in nonchalant fashion, to outwit the police, lift up skirts, win at pool, and win in athletic competitions. That they are already the pretty boy athlete types who mostly come off as jerks is beside the point, the likelihood that swooning females watching them will care about the principles of how they get what they want escaping the infatuated ladies somehow. This sets up the responsibilities and downside of using the gifts frivolously. Essentially changing the focus midstream to show the magical abilities like a drug, with addiction and side effects in abundance, director Renny Harlin once more goes to the well of the improbable and drinks too deeply. See, the more you use the powers, the faster you age and the more you want to use your abilities. This is a plot point you can see for yourself in one of the tragic surprises of the flick, yet the one teen with the smarts to know what will happen repeatedly uses his powers like they were going out of style (hastening his doom to match his father).
The main aspect of the movie focuses on the belief that a fifth family, one thought to be wiped out hundreds of years prior, was still in existence in the form of a newcomer. Forget the fact that there could be thousands of other witches, warlocks, and other supernatural beings out there seeking to attack our protagonists for a moment and think about the idea; the banished (and thought long dead) fifth founding family waited all this time to enact revenge?!? Okay, maybe if the writers had thought up a reason why this would be and presented it with a degree of intelligence, I could have accepted it. That he would be so much more skilled in the use and somehow escape the notice of the others in the community (while the focus was the teens, most of their families were still alive and, theoretically at least, magically gifted to the point where they could have teamed up to do something about him. The whole idea of sticking together (hence the title again) for mutual protection was tossed out the window and it came down to devolving into yet another excuse to show the latest special effects in a date movie.
The dialogue made Revenge of the Sith seem almost Shakespearean by comparison, and the plot holes made me wonder if this was actually a twelve hour miniseries that was chopped up to an hour and a half as a teaser movie. The half hearted explanations sucked goat turds, the meaningless manner in which each of the protagonists proceeded as though they were rejects from The Craft or The Lost Boys combined with the CGI heavy effects displayed as though they were the stars of the flick and not the male model types that provided the same level of acting as your typical, average budget porno. Further, even after the lame attempts to explain the rules of the universe in the movie, the quartet were so unsympathetic that I was kind of hoping to see them all die but I'm sure that a series of direct to video releases will soon follow; eschewing budget and the original cast in order to provide those who should know (and expect) better with another franchise to milk. I remember when it came out a few months ago that critics and moviegoers were making comparisons to The Matrix but aside from using too many effects, this movie wouldn't rate as a film school version of the Reeves series even for the hard up. Suffice it to say that with so little to like in the movie, I rated it as a Skip It and hope it wins scores of worst movie of the year awards.
Picture: The Covenant was presented with two versions of the movie on the DVD; the full frame, 1.33:1 ratio version, and the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen version that looked vastly superior to me. The colors, the cinematography, and the technical aspects of the movie looked pretty good to me with no compression artifacts, no noticeable edge enhancement and a fairly keen eye on the camera angles and editing used to further the story. In scenes like the shower attack, the spider invasion, and some of the lesser thriller scenes, the special effects were actually blended in quite well though the green screen flying effects and some of the other CGI work looked as poorly handled as low budget syndicated television shows, preventing the suspension of disbelief needed to make the movie more appealing. Had more time been spent on writing a solid story with decent characters, the use of such effects might have been less important but you take what you get. The show was advertised as "mastered in high definition" and looked as much, but some of the scenes could have used more post production work or at least better initial shooting in order to make the two dimensional characters look their best.
Sound: The audio was presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital English or a 2.0 DD French track, with both languages available for subtitles. There was a considerable amount of use of the back channels and during the action sequences, you could often feel the elements placed correctly as they attacked one another or the creepy score set the mood. There was an over the head manner to how the music foreshadowed all the dramatic parts of the movie, reducing the scare factor substantially, but it was actually pretty well handled in most other ways. The vocals by the cast sounded nothing like prep school teens in the People's Republic of Massachusetts (not even close) but that and a cast that looked like they were closer to 30 then 17 is all but the norm for such movies these days. Movies like this are known for their style over substance in the auditory aspects too, at least the lamer ones, and as cool as the trailer was, I didn't expect a whole lot here either.
Extras: The usual trailers were here, as was the slip cover case style proving to be so popular among retailers (it makes stealing the movie more difficult), but the main extras were the audio commentary by director Renny Harlin and the Behind the Scenes feature; Breaking the Silence: Exposing The Covenant. In the commentary, Harlin spends much of his time talking about the technical aspects of the movie, carefully sounding positive so as to not piss off the studio executives that could hire him for another lame flick someday soon. His wonder and astonishment over the acting abilities of the cast (slipping in comments about their hard work, dedication, and it being their first time repeatedly) was painful as well his apparent reliance on the special effects to make the movie appealing. In the BTS, the cast all seemed pleasant enough as they went through the motions and otherwise tried to come off like wholesome types to adoring female fans looking for eye candy. Neither was worth the effort of watching or listening to but die hard fans may enjoy some of the technical matters more then anything else.
Final Thoughts: The Covenant was a movie with a great many flaws that genre fans can take in one of two ways; they can revel in how absolutely cheesy the movie was (and see it as an homage to literally dozens of other better or equally terrible movies) or they can sit back and see how low the director how sunk since some of his previous efforts. I wasn't expecting much when I popped The Covenant into my DVD player but this was as lame as Pledge This (review forthcoming) and that speaks volumes as to the taste of some that claimed to like it. The technical aspects were pretty good but the two dimensional characters, poor writing, lame acting, and inability to maintain any sense or adherence to the established rules of the story made it a confused, weak effort, that should immediately end the career of any who were in it.