While we were at the San Diego Comic-Con we managed to catch a screening of Clerks 2, which just happened to have a trailer for the new Renny Harlin horror picture, The Covenant, attached to it. Perhaps it was all the fantastic footage of upcoming films we were privy to at the country’s biggest pop culture convention, but we could not fathom why anyone would ever want to see this new Harlin film. Today at a “brunch” production meeting for our upcoming “zombie” flick, disturbing news hit the table. The trailer for The Covenant which we had all shared a hearty laugh at just months before must have had something more to it, because the film, which had not been screened for the press, bewitched itself into the top box office slot for its opening weekend.
Though its initial bow was far from spectacular, the box office victory finally got me off my high horse and I dragged Brandon with me to see Harlin’s latest masterpiece. With The Covenant being the director’s follow-up to Exorcist: The Beginning, one has to wonder if the Renny Harlin who made campy classics like Die Harder, Cliffhanger, and The Long Kiss Goodnight was abducted by aliens. Since the new millennium Harlin has been responsible for some of the worst cinema being produced.
After winning over audiences and studio execs with his humorous approach to Nightmare on Elm Street 4 Harlin began a streak of decidedly trashy, yet undeniably entertaining genre films. While some were far better received than others, Harlin usually delivered good, campy fun. That all changed after production on Deep Blue Sea wrapped. Hoping a reunion with Stallone would achieve box-office success Harlin made Driven, the first picture in his downward spiral. Things seemed to get brutally low with his atrocious take on The Exorcist prequel. After being held responsible for having the horror franchise mangled by the critics and audiences alike, Harlin needed a hit. The Covenant was not the answer to the directors dilemma. When a screenplay comes through which has the antagonist quoting nursery rhymes and using the word “Wi-otch”, it might behoove the filmmakers involved to consider a rewrite before green lighting the film for production. For some reason The Covenant was made as-is and Harlin’s latest picture is an absolute train wreck.
The film opens with a little history about the pact formed by five supernatural families in order to survive the medieval witch hunts that plagued Europe and the American colonies. Perhaps what tickled me the most about the introduction’s little clarifier is that it states that not even those who posses these satanic powers know of their ability’s origins. Well if they don’t know, and the filmmakers don’t want to imagine a reason for them, why even bother telling the audience this fact in the first place!? From there things just go downhill, for the descendents of these families and for the audience too.
Interestingly enough this year already featured the blending of a high school melodrama with another, distinctively different genre, in a wonderful, little film called Brick. Where that film does everything right, The Covenant does everything wrong. Feeling like a mind numbingly long WB television show, Harlin’s latest opus features a bunch of pretty young faces coping with the usual teenage angst, only this time they have magic powers to help them survive. To paraphrase an early line in the film, watch out Harry Potter, The Covenant has a whole new look at the secret lives of teenage witches.
With nearly three decades of experience under his belt, one would think Renny Harlin might be able to see a stinker from a mile away. Perhaps on paper the idea for The Covenant might sound intriguing. Four brash young men, who are descendents of powerful supernatural families, must learn to harness their power for good when a ghost from their legacy’s past comes back to haunt them. Once the film left the page and hit celluloid it was as if Harlin stopped caring altogether. Maybe it was the fact that the dialogue was atrocious or perhaps it was the lack of talent behind those fresh, young faces. It also could have been the bland CGI work, or the uninspired camera work and editing too. Whatever the case may be, somewhere along the scheme of production Harlin seemingly gave up on The Covenant, and the film just went to the wayside. How else can you explain one of the most anticlimactic finales in this modern age of special effects wizardry? If the last battle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldermort is as uninspired as the fire ball throwing finale of The Covenant, god save us all.
With such a stinker on their hands Screen Gems is probably very happy to see the trade’s report this morning. They have made their money and Harlin has once again delivered in the numbers game. Of course that won’t comfort the vast number of disgruntled audience members out there who probably wish they had burned their money, as well as the celluloid The Covenant was printed on, rather than being hexed by this film.
–Joe Russo, MoviePulse