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The Covenant (2006)
Director: Renny Harlin

review by Ian Shutter

A quartet of students at the Spenser Academy, a boarding school in New England, are known locally as "the sons of Ipswich," because they are descendents of Massachusetts' witches, possessing secret magic powers that 'ascend' to full maturity at the age of 18. Using their gifts means the boys risk premature ageing, but the plenty of advantages are too great for them to resist, and using or abusing their supernatural inheritence is extremely seductive.

This is a rites of passage story that mixes the outsider comradeship and pecking order rivalries of The Lost Boys (1987), with a risibly macho version of The Craft (1996). Struggling to contend with teenage rebellion and the pressures of increasingly violent one-upmanship when the oldest of their close-knit group approaches adulthood, the main protagonists, Caleb (Steven Strait), Pogue (Taylor Kitsch), Tyler (Chace Crawford), and Reid (Toby Hemingway) are not particularly likeable or well portrayed characters, but they are conventional enough when compared to overtly camp newcomer Chase (Sebastian Stan), who arrives at Spenser Academy trailing his own dark legacy. Of course, there's an undercurrent of simmering homoeroticism (and one brotherly Judas kiss during the climactic scenes) in this movie's trial-by-fire in a boys' club scenario, despite the presence of Sarah (Laura Ramsey) and Jessica (Kate Tunney) as school roommates, and disposable girlfriends for a couple of the boys.

The middling drama (from a J.S. Cardone screenplay) simply rocks and rolls towards its predictable conclusion, with all major plot details clearly signposted along the way. Yes, there's a family curse to be overcome, a traditional magic book protected by a ring of fire, a terrible secret just waiting to be revealed, plenty of sinister occurrences to menace the easily spooked female leads, and several Matrix inspired, Underworld styled CGI action sequences, and it will come as no surprise whatsoever to astute genre fans to learn this last noted feature of The Covenant is very much in the comic-book mode of duelling super-teens last seen in Volcano High, where all the slow motion spectacle was at least helpfully leavened with good humour. Unfortunately, The Covenant is a movie that all concerned, except for Sebastian Stan as the villainous Chase, have taken far too seriously.

The director, Renny Harlin, enjoyed big-time Hollywood success in the 1990s with Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, but his prominent career went downhill fast at the turn of the millennium, and recent works, Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), and Mindhunters (2005) are lacklustre genre offerings at best. This latest adventure is nothing special, and is only worth seeing if you're lacking any better choice for DVD rental.
The Covenant

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