Review: “The Covenant”

Whilst the premise sounds like a male version of cult hit “The Craft”, the latest PG-13 supernatural thriller to try and strike box-office gold has already earned the admittedly cute nickname “Abercrombie & Witch” for its use of a young teen male cast who look like they just stepped out of a catalogue. Unfortunately those hard bodies are about the only thing of note in what’s otherwise a truly lacklustre direct-to-video teen thriller filled with corny effects, chiseled jaw stares and a lot of hokum about Salem witchcraft.

The trouble with this kind of film is that it’s too bland and unoriginal to be bad, and certainly not clever enough to be good, so it ultimately exists in a state of bland mediocrity. Once it’s over it’s done, there’s no need to see it again and very little if any of it will retain in your memory. There’s only one effective scare in the whole film involving a bed full of spiders, and one good effect with a car disassembling and reassembling via magic. The former has been done before and better, the latter you see in your average car commercial these days.

In a genre most notable for its exploitation of women, props must be given for reversing the trend and delivering, ala “Jeepers Creepers 2”, what the girls out there would call “a nice bit of man candy”. Whereas the women of the Covenant are cute, their clothes are kept decidedly on throughout. The boys though are all on a swim team, so cue the sequence where those washboard abs walk out dressed only in speedos whilst the camera glides over them lovingly. It’s a testament to central casting that colleges in New England seem to be filled with male models with not a chest hair, stretch mark, beer belly or skin blemish to be found. Having a 30-inch or less waist must be an entry requirement.

It also helps with the central premise. There’s only two things that’ll scare the bejesus out of your average model or gay guy – getting fat and getting old. Naturally the latter becomes the price for using one’s powers too often. Shame the powers didn’t include good characterisation, the young cast are so bland they’re virtually interchangeable short of the brooding Steven Strait who’s a decent actor, impossibly good looking, and carving a nice niche for himself in teen films of late.

Powers don’t help the filmmakers either – Renny Harlin, a solid action director who knows how to shoot the big scenes, just seems bored here. The script adheres to its internal logic surprisingly, setting up lots of rules early on and sticking with them pretty much throughout. Yet it often fails in its attempts to incorporate metaphors of teen drug abuse and adolescence. Production values scream cheap with cheesy blue-hued gothic mansions and very Canadian looking exteriors. Score and editing are loud, brassy and amateur.

Teen supernatural drama hit its pinnacle with very well written and produced shows like TV’s “Buffy” and “Angel”, yet in movies many filmmakers continue to try and strike gold and always fail. “The Covenant” simply plays like a bad episode of “Charmed” in which a spell causes the girls to undergo a sex change, and if that idea sparks to you – it’s time to get out in the sun a little more.