a critiQal film review The Covenant (2006)

Plot: 4 students at the elite Spencer Academy in Massachusetts are direct descendants of the original founders of the Ipswich Colony...and they've inherited the powers that caused so much trouble for their relatives during the Witch Trials. But, when they are forced to deal with more powerful forces than even they can control, will they be able to make it to their 18th birthday and their "ascension" to their full powers?

711 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 33s)

After seeing the preview for The Covenant, one scene stuck in our minds: a mustang hurtles towards a tractor trailer, hits the trailer, blows apart…and reforms behind the trailer with the driver intact inside. With that kind of sequence in the preview, we were hooked, and couldn’t wait to find out the storyline behind it.

But, what if that were the only good scene in The Covenant? With doubts about the quality of the rest of the film, we waited until it hit DVD before taking a look.

There are no big-name actors in The Covenant. With the only semi-recognizable name, Wendy Crewson (who some may remember as the mother in The Santa Clause (1994)) being delegated to a rather minor role, it’s up to the newcomers to make the movie. While this may be risky, these newcomers, especially Steven Strait, do their best to step up to the plate.

Steven Strait plays Caleb in The Covenant, a conflicted guy who happens to possess incredible powers. He’s torn between the normalcy of his new girlfriend and his ties with his heritage. While it’s a rather complicated role for a newcomer, he does manage to do a decent job. His cohorts, the other “sons of Ipswich”, are not much more than scene filler, and don’t really do much to contribute to the film.

Sebastian Stan, as new boy in town Chase, and Laura Ramsey, as Caleb’s aforementioned girlfriend, each contribute a bit to The Covenant. Laura does a decent job as the love interest, but Sebastian is a bit two-dimensional in his role. While his character isn’t given a lot of depth, he doesn’t really seem to have an interest in trying to fill out his character either. Instead, he’s just going through the motions.

The plot, while inventive enough on paper, fails a bit when the script is played out on-screen in The Covenant. What do powerful men do when they are being attacked – and they know that their power can corrupt them? Sounds good so far, right? Unfortunately, the movie’s answer is they try to get more power. Huh? An inventive plot that degenerates into a special effects finale that seems to totally contradict the message the movie has been trying to get across. Oops, don’t look now, but you’ve just lost half the viewers, Mr. Harlin.

The power-hungry bad guy. The tortured hero. The love interest. Things that go bump in the night. Sound familiar? Yeah, thought so. Unfortunately, The Covenant is full of cliches like that. This movie degenerates into one cliche after the next. Sorry, but if you’re trying to surprise the viewer, don’t go with the same cliched twists and turns that the viewer has already seen time and time again. And try to keep your plot as inventive as the original idea.

Sure, the viewer is hooked in the beginning, as the public can’t seem to get enough of a bad period of American history, the Salem Witch Trials. Maybe it’s the still lasting aura of mystery and possible magic associated with that time period. Whatever the reason, once the viewer discovers that the 4 “sons of Ipswich” are descendants from a witch, suddenly The Covenant gets a lot more interesting. Of course, the fun special effects don’t hurt, either.

Whether it’s a Hummer driving off a cliff (only to fall out of the sky and land safely on the precipice moments later) or the above-mentioned re-forming car, The Covenant is loaded with impressive special effects. Unfortunately, good special effects do not make a good movie all by themselves.

Despite a decent performance by Steven Strait – albeit a little over his head – an inventive idea that hooks the viewers immediately and some good special effects, The Covenant isn’t the thrill-ride it should be.

That’s mostly thanks to the script. From it’s interesting beginning, The Covenant degenerates into just another special effects extravaganza…and loses the plot in the process. Going from inventive to ho-hum may seem surprising for some, but director Renny Harlin – who has both Die Hard 2 (1990) and Cutthroat Island (1995) under his belt – knows exactly what that’s all about.

Sadly, The Covenant doesn’t have much to make it stand out among the crowd…and it’s easily as predictable as the rest.

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