The prologue to The Covenant tells us of people with supernatural powers. We’re told of how these powerful warlocks and witches were hunted throughout Europe and escaped to the New England colonies in the New World. The information is provided with the contradictions of pseudogrunge music and pages of ancient texts. It doesn’t take us long to meet young men, descendants from these immigrant families. We discover them flaunting their powers by jumping off a cliff on the way to a teen party. These four special teen boys have the world, or at least their local community, by the short hairs. Soon we are alerted that something has changed. The group feels a strong presence that is disturbing their supernatural force. Newcomer Chase Collins (Stan) has a secret of his own. He is the last of a fifth family once banished from the society. His return means the usual tale of revenge and mayhem is about to unfold. Throw in a generous amount of teen sex, loud music, and fast cars, and we have a quite furious but erratic romp. We’re informed in roundabout ways that the society operates under certain rules intended to keep the secret and allow them to remain safe. Unfortunately these rules appear more like suggestions, really, as the boys are usually apt to show off their powers whether being chased by police or merely to remove a girl’s pants to win a bet. We also learn that using this force drains the user’s life, causing premature aging, if the powers are used too frequently. Of course, there is always a potential workaround to such unfortunate effects. It seems any warlock may will his powers onto another, particularly at their 18th birthday when they come into full possession of their “gifts”.
Comparisons to the superior Underworld films can’t be helped. The box art invites such comparisons by telling us the film’s share producers. The idea of a secret society with sinister history and secrets create a common thread. But warlocks are just not as cool as vampires and werewolves. Blue tints to the cinematography complete the comparisons. The Covenant obviously attempts to stay more grounded in reality and so is far more mundane overall. The film employs an odd combination of complex simplicity. We are treated to hints of this incredibly rich tradition and history, yet it is all cheapened by the one dimensional performance of the cast. We are always tantalizingly close to something larger that never makes its appearance on film. None of these characters exhibit the culture and sophistication that the filmmakers want so badly to convince us they possess. The film wants so much to be epic in its scope, but no power on heaven or earth, supernatural or otherwise, is going to make that happen. Add to these flaws some horrid examples of dialogue looping (dialogue replacement) and one begins to wonder if Renny Harlin was so obsessed with largesse that he simply ignored the critical details. Check out the looping at about 25 minutes into the film.
The Covenant makes some obvious attempts at morality. The power is often analogous to drug abuse. There is also an almost street gang mentality to these Sons of Ipswitch. Finally, the climatic battle is nothing more than an f/x heavy invisible dodge ball match. The actors look too much alike, so that it is often hard to know who is who during the conflict. I would have welcomed a deeper study into the society itself. This might have made it easier to care about these characters. There is nothing redeeming about either side here, so who cares who ultimately wins or loses?
There are two options for the video of The Covenant. For obvious reasons I’ve decided to watch, and thus review, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The picture is exceptionally sharp. The stylish tinting is handled with care. Black levels are particularly important in this film, and they do not disappoint. There is a fine element of detail to even the blackest scenes. Contrast is above average, allowing you to see the most subtle elements of the picture. Unfortunately the film’s quality might be too high for some of the wirework. The”new system” Harlin brags about in the commentary and featurette does not appear smooth or natural at all. In such definition it appears too tracked and often out of place for the surroundings, a case where the picture might be too good. There are absolutely no artifacts or compression problems, which on such a dark film is impressive in itself.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a fine example of modern sound engineering. While not too aggressive, rear channels were used to great effect. The musical score was actually a highpoint for me, and it was reproduced with a good amount of dynamic range. It might have been a touch too hot in certain areas. The dialogue was usually clear and centered. There are times I couldn’t quite catch what was said. I’m not sure these actors were the best at projection. Subs react above average, particularly to the score and the occasional explosion.
An audio commentary by Renny Harlin makes it appear he might be a bit apologetic about the film. While he compliments everything he sees, he reminds us that the actors are fairly new to the craft. He points out one technical achievement after another as though he’s attempting to pad a resume.
“Breaking The Silence: Exposing The Covenant” Renny Harlin hosts this 19 minute look behind the scenes of the film. I was amused when he mentions how important it was to assemble a group of men who looked and acted very differently so that they would not be confusing. As I’ve mentioned, these guys are all pretty much the same mold, and uninteresting at that. There was a prevalent party atmosphere during the shoot, and it’s nice to see them all having such a great time. Maybe some discipline might have helped the film along.
The Covenant is too busy first off. I have an overwhelming sense that this was intended as a setup piece for a new film franchise. The clichÃ© ending further supports this theory. It’s now doubtful that is ever going to happen. Therefore, too much time was wasted on an elaborate buildup to nowhere. The film is likely worth a rent, if only for the unique take on witchcraft. Call it Harry Potter with an attitude. If that’s the case, “Harry Potter can kiss my !”