Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Covenant, The (2006)

The climactic fight scene consists of people throwing Hadoukens at each other

From the trailer, you should already know that the twist in the latest witchcraft movie to hit the screens this decade has to do with male witches. The first minute of the movie explains in a semi-coherent way that in the town of Ipswich, Mass., the legacy of witchcraft flows in the male line of five of its founding families. More specifically, the eldest male son of the eldest male son. It’s a great use of the opening credits sequence – except that you, the average teen target audience of this movie, would probably arrive late and miss it anyway.

But never mind, since apparently everyone in modern-day Ipswich knows about the Salem witch trials, and most are aware of the histories of the five families – the official Ipswich Salem crossover book is available in the library for all to see anyway! Everyone calls the latest descendants the "Ipswich Four", and not because they’re a boy band. You see, to allay the suspicions of mortals about the existence of witchcraft, the families make the covenant never to display their powers in public, and the latest scions of the families hang out together like a boy band.

The elite rich boy clique makes this movie look like The OC with male witches, instead of a male version of The Craft or Charmed. For this movie, the head boy/head witch struggles, in classic OC tradition, with the arrival of two transfer students in their exclusive private school. The girl, of course, becomes his romantic interest, while the upstart self-confident boy turns out to be a descendant of the fifth Ipswich witch family (which was assumed to be wiped out during the witch hunts) and is now back for revenge, power, or something like that. You would already know this from the trailer, by the way.

One problem with The Covenant is its predictability. We know, or are able to guess rather early on, almost everything that is about to happen. This is further exacerbated by the second problem, its dreariness. Even though the plot twists are blatantly obvious, the movie takes too long to get to those twists. Scenes drag for too long and are burdened with bad dialogue from the cast. Who look absolutely great in their various states of dress and undress, but can’t handle their lines. And when the twists, scares and fight sequences begin, they are executed so poorly that the wait just isn’t worth it. Plenty of screentime is invested setting up the constantly overcast and rainy weather, the mouldy architecture of Ipswich and the haunted hostel look of the private boarding school, and even more screentime spent in setting up the horror subthemes, with ghoulish phantoms, nightmares and false alarms in college bathrooms making up the numbers. Yet when the scares really begin for real, you’ll actually think the false alarms in college bathrooms were scarier. When the climactic showdown begins, only one of the Ipswich four turns up, and the fight consists of the hero and the villain hurling Street Fighter 2 style Hadoukens at each other for 5 minutes. With the corollary that Street Fighter 2 had better visual effects than this.

The Covenant does have a certain charm, though. While utterly forgettable, the cast is blessed with good looks. And as Ulla from The Producers puts it, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it!” The best bits of the movie have one girl in a bathroom shower scene, two girls in their underwear gossiping to each other about their boyfriends, an entire male swimming team in various states of nudity in a bathroom, and too many scenes of sweaty half-naked male witches waking up from nightmares (don’t ask). Plenty of eye candy for everyone, in other words.

It’s a pity that Renny Harlin and JS Cardone never realise what a gold mine they have been sitting on. The Covenant would have been a truly entertaining teen/young adult movie, if it had taken the concept of "Charmed with male witches" and ramped up the outrageous campy parody factor. Instead of taking male witches seriously and pretending it isn’t the silliest and laughable concept ever, the writers should have just accepted the ridiculousness of it all and ran with the flow, not against it.

We await the definitive witchcraft movie with hilariously vapid male witches starring droolworthy actors!

First published at incinemas on 2 November 2006

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