Monday, November 30, 2009

A Decade of Dreck #14: The Covenant

Charge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far.

In retrospect, I'm really not sure what attracted me to The Covenant in the first place. You can rightly for assume for all my Decade of Dreck entries, as well as those of my distinguished bloggers-in-arms, there was at least some sort of reason to pick each respective movie. Whether it be a certain actor, a certain "so bad it's good" element, or maybe a certain bit of infamous dialogue that... oh wait, I literally just remembered why I picked this turd while typing this: "How about I make you my wee-otch?" That's it!

Every now and then, a film comes along with absolutely no redeeming elements whatsoever save one line of over the top, godawful human speech. There is nothing at all redeeming or interesting about The Covenant. Nothing. No good characters, plot, actors, director, setting, special effects, nudity (the curse of the PG-13!), nothing. But for the past three years or so I've been damn curious to finally witness the sheer hilarity that is "How about I make you my wee-otch?".

Like, seriously: how did anyone ever think that was a good idea? That seems like the kind of thing that would have to have been ad-libbed or at least made up on set. If I was a producer and I read this script (which I don't think anyone did) I would have said "No way, Renny Harlin- director of such gems as Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Deep Blue Sea, and eventually 12 Rounds starring WWE superstar John Cena, you can't make this movie, there's just no way, take that stupid line out or you'll get no money from me or any other studio in Hollywood." It had to have been a late addition and Harlin had to have had final cut to get that in there. Or maybe movies are just that bad these days?

The Covenant tries to do for hunky meatheads what The Craft (that poster look familiar to you?) did for goth girls. The premise is that way back in the seventeenth century, the town of Ipswitch, Massachusetts was settled by five families of witches. To be a witch in the Covenant universe means you have all sorts of stupid powers like the ability to float and throw balls of energy at people and stuff. It's lame, I won't get into it, but I think being an actual witch and being able to cast spells using newt eyes and stuff would be cooler. Witches (or warlocks I guess, there isn't a single woman with "the Power" in this whole goddamn movie) first get their powers on their thirteenth birthday (like Jews!) and become much more powerful when they "ascend" on their eighteenth. Basically you have a great metaphor for puberty and coming-of-age right there that I could have written you a pretty good movie about in a long weekend, but no, we'll ignore the implications of this stuff and move right along. Basically these five families' descendants now consist of four high school swimmers at a fancy-schmancy boarding school because one of the families got killed off in the Salem Witch Trials. Bummer. The four guys (consisting of the caveman from 2012 prequel 10,000 B.C., the guy from Friday Night Lights who was also Gambit in Wolverine, the guy from Gossip Girl who no one gives a shit about, and a guy who looks like the bastard butt-baby of Draco Malfoy and Aaron Carter) are all real cool bros and would totally never use their powers for evil, bro. But soon enough, it looks like there's been a string of incidents pointing to the fact that someone's been using the Power for evil! Oh noes!

The movie first drops the ball with a basic scripting issue that is pretty easy to avoid. So you know the stock character of "the new guy/girl"? Basically an audience surrogate so characters have a reason to explain all the ins-and-outs of a particular place or all the details of a character's life story. Think Harry Potter: we muggles would know nothing about wizards and stuff if other characters didn't have to explain even the most basic parts of Hogwarts to Harry; people would just carry on with their daily lives and not have to give the entire history of any goofy thing they happen to do because they're wizards. You basically put in a "new guy" so you can use dialogue to explain things that someone wouldn't normally talk about. The problem with Covenant's use of the "new guy" (or in this case, girl) is that there's an opening crawl that explains the entire history of Ipswitch and witches and all that. We the audience are already entirely aware of the Power and the main characters' use of it and its implications. We don't need them to spend half the movie briefing an audience surrogate when we're already up to speed. In this case, the new girl is Sarah, a public school transfer student from out of town (played by the girl Don Draper sleeps with in the Mad Men episode "the Jet Set" much to my delight) who needs everything explained to her. She's ostensibly there as a love interest for Caleb, our thoroughly dull protagonist but its clear that she's also there to act as outsider and justify constant reiterations of why things are important even though its completely unnecessary for any one with any sort of ability to comprehend a film.

The Covenant also completely messes up its depiction of high school kids. It of course is plagued by the age old "teenagers played by 30-year-olds" problem teen movies have had since time immemorial but that's not half the issue. These are the least convincing teenagers I've ever seen, even if you don't take into account that they don't look like they've been in high school for at least six years. They all hang out at a local dive bar full of townies who don't seem to mind that a bunch of underage, old money, spoiled rich kids take over their watering hole to literally drink nothing but pop. I will tell you from experience that if there's one thing townies hate, it's the rich kids who take over their bar. If there's one thing waiters and bartenders hate, it's a table of people who order one Cherry Coke each and get free refills the entire night without ordering anything else. If there's one thing townie bartenders hate... you get the picture. And yet, the staff of their local dive seems to love these pretty people who fill their establishment. Maybe it's because I was a theater kid in high school but I assumed that if the popular kids were going to a bar, they'd at least get a fake ID and get wasted on vodka Red Bulls. Hell, these kids have magic powers, they could at least Jedi Mind Trick the bartender into serving them.

Also, Draper girl, showing how rebellious and public school you are by putting "I Love Rock 'n Roll" on the jukebox puts you firmly in Britney Spears territory in terms of bad-assness.

In further adventures of Teenagers Not Resembling Actual Teenagers, the cast spends a lot of the time in various states of PG-13-safe undress, revealing multiple characters with multiple tattoos. Now, I'm pretty sure you need to be 18 to get tattoos in this country, and its made pretty explicit that none of the characters have turned that age yet (because then they'd have all their powers) and unless they're implying that they're the kind of witches who would use their Power to trick a tattoo artist into putting a sick tribal marking on their forearm but not the kind of witches who would trick a bartender into getting them a PBR, this is bogus.

There's also the trouble of the use of the Power. Supposedly if has negative side effects like aging you prematurely (think Emperor Palpatine) and making you evil (think Emperor Palpatine). Caleb's 44-year-old dad (Harvard class of '81, meaning that since this movie was made in and was explicitly set in 2006 he would have been 19 when he graduated from college, I counted) is presented as a withered old semi-corpse because of his abuse of the Power. Caleb in particular (because he's soooooo good) warns his friends not to overuse the Power on trivial matters lest it warp their bodies and souls and yet he is clearly show joining in with his buddies in making their car fly over a cliff (at which point the Draco Malfoy look-alike shouts "Harry Potter can kiss my ass!", yeah I know) and lifting a book off a shelf and opening it with magic when he could have just as easily used his hands. Consistency, people!

The movie also fails miserably in creating any amount of suspense regarding who is responsible for a Power-related murder and other mischief involving witchcraft around town. We're first made to think that the brooding Draco Malfoy kid is the one because he complains about Caleb not letting him use his power and wears gloves without fingers but literally within five minutes of meeting him we're all pretty sure that the good-looking new guy with a mysterious past is definitely the culprit (spoiler alert: he's the long lost scion of the fifth witch family). I know it may have been clich├ęd to have the mysterious stranger turn out to be good but they don't even try here.

We the audience are also assured that there are four remaining families that have the Power and yet we never see or hear about anyone but the four main guys who can use it. Remember, these guys are the descendants of the four families who founded the town. These families have remained in this area for four hundred years and yet the only ones we meet are four teenager boys who are all in the same year at prep school. There's literally no older siblings, cousins, fathers (who aren't rendered old by overuse of the Power) or anyone else who can help out when the bad guy starts his reign of terror. For being such a well-established group of old money families they seem to have to never sired more than one heir in every generation and they've all been male. I also find it strange that witches, which is of course a term for female practitioners of black magic - men are warlocks, are completely represented here by men (boys really). The persecution of witchcraft in the early modern period is viewed primarily as a persecution of women and yet not a single female witch is shown. I'm going to call latent misogyny on this one.

One last thing, The Covenant is probably the most hilariously unintentional homosexual movie since Top Gun. There's a locker room scene where our swim team heroes spend a good five minutes completely naked, staring each other down and making macho threats, Iceman style. There's also a scene where I think the school's headmaster tells Caleb he has to fuck the mysterious new guy, at least that's what I read into it.

At the risk of crappy local film critic punnerey, I would rather be burned at the stake than sit through The Covenant again.

The Covenant is ranked #31 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 3% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.