JULY 13, 2009
How The Covenant ended up in my collection is a bit of a mystery. I can only assume I got it from Mr. Disgusting to review (I have owned it since before I began doing HMAD) or as a gift bag prize or something. And every couple of months, when I look to make a few bucks by selling a few unwanted DVDs, I look at it and say “No, this will make a funny HMAD review, I’m sure” and keep it (I also promised HMAD reader Kelly that I would review it). So now I have finally given it a look, and yes, I can guarantee that it will be going in the “sell it back” pile.
On a technical level it’s fine. The CGI is pretty good, the direction and production value is top notch (it only cost 20 million, but it’s all on the screen), and despite a few laughable transgressions, they do a good job faking Eastern Massachusetts in Canada (we don’t have giant fucking cliffs for thrill-seeking warlocks to drive off of, and our rainstorms aren’t usually typhoons). And it features a good performance by Taylor Kitsch, who along with Chace Crawford is the only one of the guys in the movie that I’ve seen in anything since.
But holy Christ is it dull. Nothing fucking happens in this movie! It’s like they forgot that you can still kill people even if you have a PG-13 rating. There are four good guys and one bad guy... you would THINK at least one of the good guys would get killed in this supposedly massive battle, but no. The bad guy puts one in the hospital with some sort of vague injury. Two of the others never even face any danger at all. It just comes down to the main good guy fighting the bad guy. Christ, the bad guy isn’t even dangerous; at one point he has the hero’s girlfriend under some sort of spell, and the hero’s like “Leave her alone!” and... the bad guy does. Oooh, scary. When your film’s only villain can’t bring himself to actually do anything evil, where is the danger or suspense going to come from?
Christ, the movie can’t even be bothered to kill him either! He is tossed into a fire, but the epilogue makes sure we know that he survived. So these Warlocks are all powerful, but all they can manage to do is knock each other around for a few minutes. Speaking of their powers, it seems they can do whatever the hell they want: fix cars, blow up skirts, make cars fly, make dudes puke, and even survive certain death when they drive head on into a giant fucking truck (the car just puts itself back together, the driver completely unharmed). But they seemingly forget how powerful they are at times, as they merely hide when almost caught by a security guard instead of just flying the fuck away or making themselves invisible or whatever. Likewise, Kitsch is felled by a motorcycle accident, without even trying to use his powers (and in the wake of the “car accident” earlier in the film, it doesn’t really make any sense that he could be injured at all by such a thing).
There might be an explanation for this though: the film was edited by Nicolas De Toth. Nothing against his actual skill as an editor, but this is the same guy who turned Hitman into the most flaccid R rated action movie of all time, and Die Hard Faux into the neutered mess that it is. His skill seems to be sucking the life and viscerality (not a word) out of theoretically exciting films, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if he did the same thing here. The few actual acts of violence in the film are entirely off-screen; the one death occurs to a guy we never even met. There is a scene in a bar where two guys are suddenly fighting, and everything is edited around showing any actual impact. There’s a hot-headed (non-powered) bully character, but he disappears from the film around the halfway mark. And again, it’s entirely unclear as to what Kitsch’s injury is, he’s just in the hospital. Not only does it keep the film from being exciting, but it also betrays the actual concept of the story - they are supposedly all powerful and all that, but we never get even a glimpse of what they can actually do or why people should have any reason to fear them.
In fact, their biggest power seems to be the ability to shoot balls of CGI at each other. There’s no other way to describe it - they thrust their arms forward and a swirly ball of graphic comes out and hits the other guy. The overlong climax literally revolves around the two guys shooting CGI balls at each other over and over for like 15 minutes. No injuries result from these things, nor is there any indication that they can run out of energy or whatever, so I spent the entire climax wondering why they didn’t just use some other superpower and if they would ever run out of MP and be forced to use melee attacks (or use the escape command and run back to town for an ether).
The end also feels like yet another competition, which is pretty much all the previous 80 minutes were about. These guys never stop engaging in friendly contests: swimming, foosball, pool, girl chasing... and CGI magic ball throwing. Since they aren’t hurting each other in any meaningful way, it feels like the supernatural version of a high school fencing match. All it’s missing is the other three guys cheering them on, which is pretty much what their roles are reduced to for the bulk of the film.
And yet we see male ass. I think that’s a first for a PG-13 horror movie, and I’d hate to think that was the tradeoff. Like Renny Harlin was like “I need this ass shot!” and the MPAA was like “Fine, but you have to cut out any sort of violence and the kids can never get as much as a bruise on their arm!” But the ass-shots don’t help the fact that the movie often feels a bit like a big budget David DeCoteau film, what with all these handsome dudes spending so much time brooding in dark rooms together (and ignoring their girlfriends on more than one occasion in order to continue their totally hetero competitions).
Like anything else related to the story or characters, Harlin’s commentary doesn’t provide any insight on the matter. If you are hoping to become a key grip or matte choker or maybe even a 2nd unit assistant director though; this track is essential. Harlin never stops talking for more than a second, but it’s all technical - how this was shot, where the CG elements are, how it was lit, etc. It’s like a Carpenter solo track but without the occasional humor. The only time he speaks about anything else is during the end credits, when he explains how he first heard of the project on a Tuesday, got drunk with the producer on a Wednesday, and signed up to directed it on Thursday afternoon, blowing off another film in the process. Good story. The only other extra is a making of, which is worth a look if only to hear Wendy Crewson (The Good Son!) talk about how amazingly handsome the actor playing her teenage son is. Good to know if the whole acting gig doesn’t pan out, she’s got terrific potential for a career in Cougaring.
One final odd note - I started this one late, so it was a bit past midnight on the 14th when it finished. And strangely enough, July 14th is the bad guy's birthday, they even make a big deal out of it. I wouldn't have thought much of it, but in Con Air the little girl's birthday is July 14th, which is also the day Nic Cage is released from prison. Good day for fictional people. Also it's Bastille Day.
What say you?