The Covenant (2006)
By: Paul Ryan on February 4, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Sony (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 93 minutes
The Movie
Director: Renny Harlin
Starring: Steven Strait, Sebastian Stan, Laura Ramsey, Wendy Crewson
Screenplay: J.S. Cardone
Country: USA
At the New England boarding school Spenser Academy, a quartet of students - Caleb (Steven Strait), Tyler (Chace Crawford), Reid (Toby Hemingway and Pogue (Taylor Kitsch) - face the usual high school dilemmas, such as girls, bullies, grades, etc. The difference is that these boys are all warlocks, descended from 17th century witchcraft families. The families are bound together by a covenant of silence (hence the title), and the boys stuggle to keep their powers under wraps. Approaching their respective 18th birthdays - though the actors all look about 23 minimum - they are set to "ascend" - achieving the full potential of their powers, and its a gift that can prove fatally addictive. Into this environment comes Chase (Sebastian Stan), a vengeful, long-lost descendant of the original coven, who is determined to steal their power and wreak havoc…

Coming off as a bigger-budgeted version of one of David DeCoteau's homoerotic chillers (think Voodoo Academy, or Talisman), The Covenant punctuates its predictable storyline with ample scenes of its handsome male cast shirtless, variously showering, swimming, sleeping, etc… There are a couple of moments of blatant female bodily objectification as well, but they're comparatively brief. So while there's something for just about everyone in the perve stakes, that's as edgy as The Covenant gets.

As evidenced from his work in Exorcist: The Beginning (admittedly, a thankless gig), Renny Harlin again proves an awkward fit for a CGI-heavy effects film. Though he manages one genuinely creepy moment (involving a horde of spiders), too often Harlin resorts to third-rate CGI for the money shots. Lightning, explosions, floating props and so on are all rendered so sloppily that any mood is quickly undermined.

The relatively unknown leads are bland but serviceable, though Sebastian Stan as the villainous Chase is really quite terrible. The only familiar names in the film, Wendy Crewson (as Caleb's dour mum) and Stephen McHattie (as Caleb's magic-junkie dad) give a touch of professionalism to the proceedings at least. J.S. Cardone's script is full of cliches and zero suspense. The film's metaphor of witchcraft as drug addiction is nothing new, especially if you saw season six of Buffy.

So aside from the unusually frequent shirtless boy action, The Covenant is an eminently forgettable, throwaway piece of teeniebopper horror. Unoriginal, unimaginative and saturated in dodgy special effects, this isn't bad enough to be funny. Instead it's just doggedly mediocre.
As you'd expect from a major distributor release, the video transfer of The Covenant is first-rate. The downside of this is that it makes the often-ropey CGI stand out quite glaringly, but - if it's your thing - all that well-toned guy flesh is presented in perfect digital clarity as well.
A big, brassy Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is available. It's as subtle as Harlin's direction, with every explosion, thundercrack and guitar wail amped up to 11.
Extra Features
Commentary Track with Renny Harlin: Harlin gives a chatty, detailed commentary covering many aspects of the production. He's awfully proud of the dodgy special effects, but that's kind of endearing, as is his insistence that he wanted the film to be like nothing you've seen before. He also stresses that no spiders were harmed in the making of the film.

Breaking The Silence: Exposing The Covenant (4x3ff, 18.42m): A beyond-generic behind the scenes featurette. The cast and crew all vainly try to convince you that this film is something fresh and original. When the actors start rabbiting on about character depth - in a movie this shallow - you just want to throw something at the screen.
The Verdict
When the most notable thing about a horror film is how often its male leads have their shirts off, you know you've got a dud on your hands. Bland in the extreme, The Covenant is a horror film for people who don't watch horror films. The DVD is technically excellent however, and there are a couple of extra features for those so inclined.
Movie Score
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