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Dustin Putman

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Learn more about this film on IMDb!The Covenant  (2006)
1 Star
Directed by Renny Harlin
Cast: Steven Strait, Laura Ramsey, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Taylor Kitsch, Jessica Lucas, Chace Crawford, Wendy Crewson, Stephen McHattie, Neil Napier, Sarah Smyth, Robert Crooks, Kyle Schmid, Larry Day, Matt Austin, Steven Crowder
2006 – 97 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, sexual content, partial nudity and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 9, 2006.
"The Covenant" is a wimpy, transparent knockoff of 1987's "The Lost Boys" (trading vampires for warlocks) and 1996's "The Craft" (trading girls for boys). Not spooky, suspenseful or horrific enough to be classified as a horror movie, the film struggles to find an identity but comes up short. If the 97-minute running time offers audiences anything of noteworthy value, it is unintentional laughs shooting from all cylinders (i.e. bad acting, awful writing, awkward line deliveries, spotty editing) and a blatant homoerotic edge that culminates in a surprising same-sex kiss. Unfortunately, director Renny Harlin (2005's "Mindhunters") is forced to quickly recoil on this latter fact instead of explore it, lest the studio marketing and sacred PG-13 rating be put into jeopardy. "The Covenant" is tolerable to sit through, but strictly by-the-numbers and insultingly amateurish for a filmmaker who once made some A-list action pics, including 1990's "Die Hard 2," 1993's "Cliffhanger," and 1999's "Deep Blue Sea." That this one didn't go directly to DVD boggles the mind.

The story goes that five families of great power took a vow of silence in the Colony of Ipswich, circa 1692, during the height of the Salem witch trials. While others perished, four of these five bloodlines endured through the centuries. Now 2006, the current descendants—sensitive hottie Caleb Danvers (Steven Strait), trusty if hot-headed Pogue Parry (Taylor Kitsch), rebellious but hot Reid Garwin (Toby Hemingway), and nondescript hottie Tyler Sims (Chace Crawford)—are wealthy students at Ipswich's posh Spencer Academy boarding school. About to turn eighteen—the age of their ascension—Caleb warns the others that being seduced by their powers and misusing them will slowly drain away their life force. When the body of a teen is found dead and Caleb is visited by a "darkling" apparition of him, he initially suspects one of his friends as being the culprit of the crime. Instead, the bad guy is the kin of the fifth Ipswich family, Chase Collins (Sebastian Stan), long thought to have been snuffed out. Chase is out of control and willing to do whatever necessary to obtain more power, and he isn't about to let anyone get in his way.

"The Covenant" is lame at the start and even lamer by the end, which pointlessly hints at an impending sequel. A supernatural thriller of minimal thrills or naturally super elements, director Renny Harlin sets out to distract his target teenybopper audience through a bombardment of hyperkineticism and loud hard rock music. These things keep the pace moving, but not one's interest. If the cinematography by Pierre Gill renders the images with a moody, autumnal New England feel, the characters are boring stick figures going through the barely-established motions. The personal dramas within the group of guys wouldn't pass muster on a television pilot, and additionally harming matters are their chiseled physical similarities prohibiting them from getting individual personalities beyond the bare essentials.

With all the horror clichés loyally in place—building audience apprehension by having characters go off to investigate strange noises and ineffectual jump scares are its raison d'Ítre—it is odd that nothing else about the film suggests it is even trying to be of that genre. Meanwhile, director Renny Harlin and screenwriter J.S. Cardone (2001's "The Forsaken") outdo themselves in the bad laughs department. They should have been told that a villain's threat would be diffused if they had him reciting the "Little Miss Muffet" nursery rhyme in a taunting manner. It doesn't help that the baddie later tells the hero, "I'm gonna make you my weyotch," at the start of a supposedly exciting climax where all they do is throw back and forth an energy ball of what looks to be slime.

Setting back the Women's Right movement by sixty years, the two female characters, new-girl-at-school Sarah (Laura Ramsey) and roommate Kate (Jessica Lucas), spend all of their time together talking about the opposite sex while usually dressed in various lingerie. When Sarah reasonably asks Kate at one point why they are stuck sitting around at a bar while the guys they are with are up playing games and having fun, Kate answers in all seriousness, "That's what girls are for—to watch boys with their toys." And finally, turning legitimate homoerotic elements into what can only be assumed is self-parody, are countless shots of ripped male abs and skimpy Speedos, cheerful towel-swatting between naked high school guys in the locker room, thick sexual tension throughout, and a bizarre same-sex kiss between Caleb and Chase that is never brought up again after it happens. If director Renny Harlin wanted to make a thriller catering to gay audiences, why didn't he just go all out and do it right, rather than pussyfoot around with uncomfortably vague subtexts too cowardly to be dealt with in a mature manner?

The five performers playing the Sons of Ipswich are made up of virtual unknowns, with the most famous being Steven Strait (2005's "Sky High"), as protagonist Caleb. None of them can act worth a lick, but all of them would be perfect for an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. As pure eye candy, they do the trick. The second they open their mouths to speak, the illusion vanishes and they can be counted on to deliver admittedly stilted dialogue with the least amount of conviction and believability possible. There have been soft-core porn actors with more going on upstairs than these guys, and that is not hyperbole. As the love interests to Caleb and Pogue, Laura Ramsey and Jessica Lucas (both previously of 2006's "She's the Man") are a little better, but left relegated to "helpless victim" status.

"The Covenant" is good for a few giggles, a few brooding gothic images, and a headache. Bombastic to the point of annoyance and shamefully blundering on a filmmaking level—a veteran of Harlin's stature should know better than this—the film might resemble the aforementioned "The Lost Boys" and "The Craft," but can't hold a candle to either of them. Whereas they are examples of professionally mounted storytelling (and appropriately R-rated at that), "The Covenant" is the sort of empty, gutless and forgettable hogwash that gives teen thrillers—if one can even label it that—a bad name.
© 2006 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman