Review of The Covenant

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

For far too long, onscreen representations of witches involved discolored skin, warts, Goth cosmetics and/or lesbian subtext. Director Renny Harlin, veteran of supernatural masterpieces such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4” and “Exorcist: The Beginning,” takes witchcraft back from these dubious depictions with “The Covenant.” In this film, the witches don’t receive their power through blasphemous pagan worship but instead inherit it from patriotic ancestors who helped found the New England colonies. These witches attend the prestigious Spenser Academy, excelling in social stature and in their involvement with the swim team. They support the American automobile industry by driving cars like the Hummer H3 and the 2006 Ford Mustang. Basically, the film’s witches are poster boys for wholesome American values.

Like any hit movie, everything worth seeing in the full-length film can be edited down into an explosive two-minute trailer. Caleb (Steven Strait) and his three friends are the Sons of Ipswich, descendants of witch families that centuries ago made a pact to only use their abilities, known as the “Power,” in secret. All goes well until the deviant Chase (Sebastian Stan) transfers to the academy. Mysterious circumstances give Caleb reason to believe that somebody is openly using the Power, and eventually Chase outs himself as a fifth descendant who is lusting for Caleb to give him more power. Luckily, the special effects are not done well enough to distract from the story.

“The Covenant” offers its own spin on the actual use of magic: Utilizing the Power shortens the user’s lifespan. The film also takes the allegory of magic addiction, previously seen on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a step further by mixing the natural growing pains of puberty into the metaphor. The Sons of Ipswich gain some of their powers in their early teens and receive the rest at the mystical age of 18. Unlike the evil witches in other films, who use their powers to force lost campers to stand in the corner of a cabin, the foursome responsibly uses the potentially limitless possibilities of their magical abilities for harmless activities like lifting skirts and spiritually projecting into the girls’ shower room.

If all these ingredients don’t provide the film with enough substance to please the most discerning filmgoers, there’s also the film’s casting and writing. Make no mistake: These sons of witches are hotter than a burning stake. While the cast could understandably be mistaken for a catalog of male models, the members of the Sons of Ipswich have one gigantic feature that differentiates them from the typical non-acting statue — their sex appeal is further supplemented by the film’s witty dialogue. With verbal gems like Chase’s threat to make Caleb his “weeyotch,” or one of the gang yelling, “Harry Potter can kiss my ass” as he drives off a cliff, “The Covenant” is nothing if not a well-written film.

“The Covenant” is also based on a comic, which was based on an original screenplay. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean the script was rejected in its first incarnation and is only now in theaters near you because the studio was desperate to capitalize on the latest comic-book-turned-movie trend. In fact, this actually just means that the film comes from the artistic creativity of a committee of people rather than the single vision of someone whose only qualification is that they actually know how to craft a film.

There’s no mistaking the level of quality of “The Covenant.” It puts a spell on anything around it, as shown by how the film beat out Oscar-worthy flicks like “Crank” and “The Protector” during its opening weekend. Watch this movie and feel the true power of “The Covenant” for yourself — just don’t blame Artsweek if the theater refuses to give your money back afterward.

Posted by Batalla at 2:56 PM  


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