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MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Horror, Mystery/Suspense
Cast
Steven Strait as Caleb Danvers; Sebastian Stan as Chase Collins; Laura Ramsey as Sarah Wenham; Taylor Kitsch as Pogue Parry; Toby Hemingway as Reid Garwin; Jessica Lucas as Kate Tunney; Chace Crawford as Tyler Sims
Director
Renny Harlin (Exorcist: The Beginning, Mindhunters, Driven)
Distributor
Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures
Reviewer
Bob Hoose
The Covenant

The Covenant

Caleb and his three teen friends share a big secret. They're witches. And they all have supernatural powers. Now, for the most part, they think this is pretty cool, except for the fact that every time they do magic, they age a little faster, and they get a little bit more addicted to using their powers. It's a vicious cycle, and the devil to pay in the end.

The four boys are direct descendants of five families that founded the Massachusetts Ipswich colony in the 1600s. The fifth family is known to have died out when its founder, John Putnam, was exposed as a witch (the film never uses the masculine term warlock) and burned at the stake. At that point, the other four families wisely made a covenant to keep quiet about their own witchy ways.

In the present day, the guys try to keep each other in check but for the occasional magical leap off a 100-foot high cliff. And everything seems to be going along fine. Caleb even meets a pretty transfer student (Sarah) at their prep school. But then a boy is killed and darkly magical things start happening that no one can explain. Is there another supernatural presence at work? And could it have something to do with an unknown Putnam survivor?

Positive Elements

Caleb is a gentle soul who really doesn't want the power he has because he's watched it physically destroy his father. So he is the conscience of the "Sons of Ipswich" as well as a protector of other students. As it becomes clear that the nasty things happening are aimed at him, it becomes equally clear that he is willing to do almost anything to save his friends, his family and the innocents around him. In a savior reference, Caleb's arch rival tells him that he'll be a "sacrificial lamb" in the eyes of the others. Continuing that theme, Caleb's father later realizes that his son is in danger and gives his own life to save him.

Spiritual Content

The movie's opening screen says, "No one knows how the power came to be," but the pentagrams and ancient occult tomes residing in a special hideaway give us a clue.

Thus, while not really acknowledging that such a thing as the occult even exists, the film seems simultaneously obsessed with it. There are several mystical books read from (Chronicles of Paganism, Book of Damnation). And it's made clear that the boys' ancestors fled Europe because of persecution and were subsequently caught up in the Salem witch trials in America. When the boys use their powers (to levitate things, start car engines, dematerialize, etc.), their eyes flash like burning embers and then the pupils turn black. There are several references to the boys turning 18 and "ascending" to a higher level of power. It's also revealed that a witch is able to will his supernatural power to another, but doing so will mean his death.

A teen is found murdered (magically) in a car and his "darkling" (a ghoulish spirit) reappears several times afterward. Spiders (representing wicked spells) are used throughout the movie. In one scene, a spider/spell crawls into Sarah's ear and a blue-veined "death" begins spreading out over her face and body. On another shadow-shrouded night, Sarah is joined in the dormitory bathroom by a misty entity which floats up behind her and touches a cross-like tattoo on her back.

Sexual Content

In that empty bathroom, Sarah is seen showering (through translucent glass). Clearer and more close-up shots reveal her bare back and side (with a quick flash of part of her breast as she wraps herself in a towel). Similarly, several guys are seen in various states of undress in their locker room. Steam from their hot showers is used to mute the visual effect, but several are fully nude (the camera sees them from the side or back). One of the nude Sons of Ipswich is clearly seen from the back sans fog.

After ogling a waitress in a tight-fitting top and short skirt, several of the boys wager on the color of her panties. When one of them magically lifts up her skirt to settle the bet, they (and moviegoers) see that she is in fact wearing none at all. Sensual dancing takes place at an outdoor party, and Sarah and her roommate, Kate, are repeatedly shown lounging around their dorm room in skimpy panties and undergarments that leave very little to the imagination. Midriff- and cleavage-baring outfits are worn by several of the girls.

Juxtaposed against this sensual backdrop is Caleb and Sarah's "courtship." They are obviously attracted to each other and kiss several times. She also flirts with him and teases him mercilessly, especially when she dances with (and for) him. But each time the situation begins to progress past kissing, Sarah chastely pulls back with Caleb's complete understanding.

One verbal exchange between two boys, with barbs about homosexuality and sexual organ size, erupts into a fistfight.

Violent Content

The big showdown between Caleb and his evil nemesis takes place in a large barn where the boys magically throw pitchforks, farm equipment, fire, energy balls and each other through every splintering wall and hayloft in sight. The final blast burns the barn to cinders. But that scene isn't where The Covenant's CGI wizardry comes into full force. That happens when Caleb is startled by a ghostly presence in his car and crashes head on into an oncoming semi. His car disintegrates into shards of junk metal and then miraculously reintegrates—still in midair—unscathed after the truck passes through it.

The friends have a few conflicts that erupt into violence. Unlike a normal teen scuffle however, these guys throw large, heavy objects such as beer kegs and smash each other into walls, mirrors and stacks of glass bottles.

Sarah and Kate are on the receiving end of several malicious attacks. Sarah is supernaturally dematerialized, suspended unconscious over a fire and assailed by a roomful of swarming spiders. Kate sinks into a coma, covered in ugly spider bites. Two people are seen dead with cataract-glazed eyes.

Crude or Profane Language

"H---," "d--n" and the s-word are used a half-dozen or fewer times each. A handful of other crude language including "a--," "b--ch" and crass mentions of parts of the female and male anatomy are used. Exclamations of "Jesus" and "god" make several appearances.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Teens hang out at a bar in which a number of people drink. (Notably, though, when one of our "heroes" orders something from the bartender, he asks for "fries and a coke.") Caleb's mom is obviously inebriated and is seen drinking a large glass of hard liquor. She's later referred to as an alcoholic.

The use of magic is repeatedly denoted as an addictive force. The more it's used, the more powerful its grip becomes and the more it ravages your body. Caleb's father (a man of 44) is shown to be a shriveled up, gnarled husk of humanity as a result of his habitual magic use.

Other Negative Elements

Along with other magically induced mischief, the Sons of Ipswich defy the police and lead officers on a wild car chase through a wooded area. The police see that the boys are heading toward a fog-shrouded cliff and frantically try to warn them, but the boys drive off it and supernaturally fly back behind the panicked cops (one of the boys yells, "Harry Potter can kiss my a--!").

On a gross-out note, a spell forces a high schooler to vomit voluminously.

Conclusion

The Covenant is an adequately acted (though one-dimensional) movie filled with very attractive young talent (but not quite young enough; some of these high schoolers are as old as 26) and aimed squarely at the teen and twentysomething Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed audience. It's got all the dark forests, empty mansions and shadow-filled dormitory hallways that are requisite for a scary atmosphere. Anything occult-like has been given a coat of white paint and some CGI flash. And, on the plus side of things, rampant gore and explicit sexuality have been largely exorcised.

In fact, other than the partial nudity in the shower scenes and a few s-words, this wouldn't feel out of place airing on the WB (now CW) right after Smallville. (Come to think of it, shower scenes and even s-words aren't all that rare on TV anymore.) My point being that movies tend to push things much harder than TV does just because they can; The Covenant doesn't.

Hey, there's even a good guy who's willing to sacrifice his life for others (and a parent who does).

But as I was leaving the theater—after feeling compelled to cheer for the good witch to defeat the bad witch and knowing that his occult superpowers would probably save the day—I remembered a friend I had as a kid. No, she didn't have superpowers. She was just into séances and Ouija boards. She was cute and smart and certainly not scary. And I liked her. But, even though I didn't think much about spiritual things at that time, there was something about the séance stuff that really bugged me. And I had to back away.

We can often let a pretty, friendly surface divert our attention from something not so good or healthy underneath. I'm not saying that The Covenant will single-handedly lead throngs of teens into the world of witchcraft. But I am suggesting that it's all too common to let fantasy dull awareness of reality. Like, for example, the fact that evil is real. Witches, too. And keeping our eyes on what's real (or even better, what's true—read John 3 for more on that) makes it easier to know when it's time to back away.

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