Covenant, The

Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 09/22/06 00:19:02

"Covenant of Gracelessness"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Most libraries and booksellers now have sections devoted to the interests and tastes of Young Adults. These areas exist so the young people and the ex-young people don’t have to look at each other while they browse. It’s to everyone’s advantage but the kids appreciate it more than we do, and who can blame them?

Much of this space is given over to dark fantasy and horror stories—Buffy novelizations and the like—a sort of chick lit spook department that falls somewhere between Goosebumps and “Carrie.”

Which brings us to “The Covenant,” director Renny Harlin’s latest, a cinematic equivalent to this tepid creepout ghoulash. It’s all rainy nights, creepy buildings, and sinister servants served up with pre-digested bits of colonial witchcraft, and it’s about as scary as someone else’s vacation photos.

Set in and around a small college near the town of Ipswich, Mass., the film tries to extract chills from the hoariest horror movie clichés. The one big twistaroo tossed in my screenwriter J.S. Cardone is making the contemporary witches a quartet of guys.

Since colonial times, the eldest sons of the four founders of the city have inherited great powers, and with great power comes, if you’re not careful, great irresponsibility. The oldest of the guys, Caleb (Steven Strait) has learned the lesson of his father, who misused his powers and is now 44 years old and looks about 444 and something you’d find mushed up at the bottom of a dumpster.

With the beginning of a new school year, Caleb falls for scholarship hottie Sarah (Laura Ramsey) and befriends transfer student Chase (Sebastian Stan). The bad part is that someone seems to be using supernatural powers against Caleb and his amigos. Now who can it be?

It’s all about as hard to figure out as an episode of “Scooby-Doo,” but I don’t think the target demographic is along for the mystery, and it’s obvious that Harlin couldn’t care less, either. He’s just punching the clock and trying to work out the big showdown between Caleb and the mystery opponent.

They meet in an old barn from the witch hunt days and go wizardo y wizardo, hurling round, shimmering balls of energetic super sauce at each other. Vincent Price and Boris Karloff did the same thing for the conclusion of Roger Corman’s “The Raven” back in the day, only Corman had the good sense to know that it was all pretty silly. I mean, Caleb forms a ball of energy and hurls it at the other fella. It hits and knocks the guy backwards. He then makes his own ball and hurls it at Caleb, who also goes flying backwards.

What are we actually seeing? Some relatively cheesy computer generated special effects and two stunt men doing backward wire work. For this you pay money?

“The Covenant” is not the worst fantasy film you could see—for that you need an Uwe Boll picture—but it is about as nourishing as chewing a toothpick. Think of those supernatural-themed TV shows on basic cable channels and then remember that this is rated PG-13 so there won’t even be any substantial nudity or gore, and then ask yourself what a horror movie is supposed to be.

If you answer “scary,” you can safely give this one a skip. There was a time in my life when I might have thought “The Covenant” was scary, but I didn’t see many movies when I was an embryo. Didn’t get out much, you know?

But maybe it’s not supposed to be scary, just comfortably creepy, like a presidential press conference. Anyway, it’s got lots of good-looking young actors and actresses in it—maybe I like monsters and evil wizards because they avoid menacing ugly people and that makes me safe—and FX that are just good enough to remind you that this is a studio production, albeit a pretty lousy one.

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