Before all you readers out there form a mob and burn me at the stake, let me preface this by reminding you that this is not 1692. I can invoke the 6th Amendment and whatever kind of magical power I may have inherited from my female ancestors if I need to. Over a decade ago, (12 years to the day,) my high school crew and I set out to the local theater to hang out and catch a movie. That flick happened to be the eccentric Renny Harlin’s (Deep Blue Sea), The Covenant. We anticipated a good time, had a great time, and yes, we still call one another a “wiotch” given the appropriate context. This film was fun all those years ago, but after an enjoyable re-watch I realized there was so much more to The Covenant than extremely attractive prep school guys and cheap horror thrills.
Don’t worry, it still has those things too.
So, would some stats help convince you to at least continue reading further and not discredit me as a knowledgeable horror fan completely? Well, I can’t really help you in that area. Currently, The Covenant sits at a 4% Rotten Tomatoes score and a 19% Metacritic score. Now, just hear me out: Numbers can be as deceiving as the odd student who comes out of nowhere to join your prep academy in the middle of the school year. Should we base all of our decision-making on numbers – especially ratings – when it comes to film? That’s right, better keep them at arms-length and not extend the invite to the super cool beach bonfire, but give them a friendly wave in the hallway just for good measure. If you’ve promised your firstborn son to the ratings underworld in exchange for unlimited power, I hate to break it to you, but 91% of Google users gave The Covenant a ‘thumbs up’.
“..there [is] so much more to The Covenant than extremely attractive prep school guys and cheap horror thrills.”
The Covenant is not only worthy of a re-watch, but is also still extremely relevant to some issues the industry, though improved, still seems to struggle with today. This film did two very important things that few did before: it pulled off a successful gender-swap regarding the role of the witch and reintroduced the art of homosexual undertones in horror.
Sure the screenplay by J.S. Cardone (Prom Night) is a little hokey and the special effects are what I would consider to be its ultimate downfall, but beyond those distracting factors, it is actually an interesting coming-of-age take on puberty, manhood, and control.
This cautionary tale about power stars Steven Strait (The Expanse) as Caleb, Taylor Kitch (Friday Night Lights) as Pogue, Toby Hemingway (The Girl In The Photographs) as Ried, and Chase Crawford (Gossip Girl) as Tyler, better known to the Spencer Academy locals as the ‘Sons of Ipswitch‘. I know, it would have been so much better if they were part of an MC too, but that’s a totally different story.
These four high school seniors posses an inherited gift from their witchy ancestors that gives them the power to pretty much do anything they desire. This power progresses to its highest level the night of their 18th birthday, Caleb’s being at the forefront of the calendar year, but this birthday present comes wrapped up with one catch: the more power used, the more addictive it becomes, gradually chipping away at one’s lifespan.
Cue the pretty new girl Sarah, played by Laura Ramsey (The Ruins), and the mysterious new guy, Chase, played by Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Infinity War), as newcomers to the elite prep school the Sons attend, stoking the fires of love and menace simultaneously. Chase is not just the new guy at school, but the long-lost fifth Son of Ipswitch with a dark past and a more threatening future. He is a magic junkie, using his power constantly for selfish pleasures, and is in need of a boost. He will do whatever it takes to force Caleb to will over his power, and his life, to him before he is destroyed by his inner magic completely.
Contrary to the initial impression you may get, or have gotten, of The Covenant being a horror ‘chick flick’, it’s actually filled with visual goodies that can be enjoyed by anyone attracted to men. To be frank, it’s one big sausage party. This group of sexually appealing actors combined with a spooky magic story compensates for the extremely tacky effects.
..Alright, maybe they don’t fully compensate enough for the third act’s power-bubble rain fight, but they’re reason enough to appreciate what’s being done here by way of gender and role.
The Witches of Eastwick, Hocus Pocus, American Horror Story: Coven, The Craft, even The Lords of Salem, all portray women as witches. It has always been a character played by women and while history does credit females with the existence of witchcraft – who’s to say the role of the warlock can’t be just as entertaining, or important? J.K. Rowling did it with Harry Potter, but that’s also a totally different story and is even poked fun at by one of the Sons. Women in general, especially in the horror genre – whether they be the villains, the heroes, the victims, or even the trio of friends surrounding the final girl – typically provide the allure for straight men. If the character is written to even entice the slightest bit of lust from the audience, an attractive, appealing looking actress is cast. Why not embrace a film that has a group of significantly good-looking men taking over the roles a group of significantly good-looking women would usually play?
We see the gender-swap technique used a lot more now, especially with comic book characters. Male superhero roles like Thor, Spider-Man, and Iron Man have played on their multiverse abilities and passed their identities on to women. In a way, The Covenant does the same thing, except this gender-swap occurred over ten years ago. In 2006, we can see the emergence of hyper-masculine films, that have thankfully since evolved, including The Departed, The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Mission: Impossible III, 300, Casino Royale, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Superman Returns. While it’s not exactly a masculine role, the Sons of Ipswitch sure do make it look good. I can level with the reality that an all-male cast in a film about magic is not exactly going to attract the masses of straight men, which is or was a large majority of horror and sci-fi fan demographics, but I would like to believe it appealed to LGBTQ horror fans in some way, no?
Female actresses in horror films are usually the eye candy, but The Covenant is a little more clever in role choice as it is a feast of the eyes for anyone interested in the male species. What about our gay male audience? I think they deserve to enjoy a little shallow imagery aside from the single token hunk and predominantly “hot” female leads we see in all popular films. Films like The Covenant are slowly, but surely, filling that void.
Seriously, there is an entire scene where the Sons stand around talking in their Speedos revealing their perfectly toned, muscular bodies in a huddled group. This scene is followed up with some bro-style roughhousing with a bare-ass towel snapping and tense locker room confrontation stifled by hot shower steam and testosterone. Let’s not forget Caleb and Chase’s fight scene in Sarah’s dorm room and the kiss. After Chase heatedly beats the crap out of Caleb using his supernatural arts, Chase aggressively plants a kiss on Caleb’s mouth, calling him “brother” before leaving him there to lay in the wreckage.
It caused a boisterous amount of skittering among the mostly immature audience, but all I could remember thinking was that it was hot… really hot. The girl-on-girl kiss is a mechanism commonly used in film, be it platonic, romantic, or lustful, to grab the audience with a twinge of shock, but seldom do we see it happen in the heat of aggression between two machismo prep school guys. Now, it’s quick and far from passionate, but still it happens. He actually says to Caleb “How about I make you my wiotch?” aka he wants to make him his bitch. Again, I’m not praising the dialogue here, but it’s a little line that tiptoes the bromance line a little hard.
It made me wonder if Chase is just asserting his dominance over the leader of the group or does his infatuation with Caleb involve more feelings than just coveting his inner power? Like their supernatural abilities, the tension between the guys in The Covenant is seductive and shocking, two of my favorite film ingredients.
“..the tension between the guys in The Covenant is seductive and shocking, two of my favorite film ingredients.”
Whether you’re gay or straight, The Covenant a pretty dreamy broomstick ride around the moon. My only qualms with this throwback is obviously the outdated graphics and suppression of allowing the obvious sexual nature that was present there take its course. We can be thankful that over time the LGBTQ community is being embraced and working themselves into the roles we now demand to see onscreen, but damn the writing here that suggested subtle queer feelings and was too afraid to really go bold, for 2006 that is. It really restrained The Covenant’s potential, letting it fall in line as another C- flick.
Horror is now saturated with strong female leads, one of the factors I truly love and am proud of in this genre that I’ll always support, but looking back on a film like this made me want more for the demographics that don’t identify as heterosexual at the time and for the future. Plenty of films like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge for example, have hinted at, whether obviously or indirectly, homosexual tones, dialogue, and visuals, but The Covenant dipped its toe in the pool. I only regret that it pulled out of the water before adjusting to the temperature too soon.
Just in the last five or so years horror and genre films have taken the plunge and incorporated roles, actors, actresses, stories, writers, and more that include a more expansive community. Roles have come leaps and bounds since then, which is incredible, so we can only hope to see more true, hot sexual action between all genders going forward. Hell, we need more LGBTQ leads, villains, and supporting characters regardless of a sex scene inclusion (though, of course, the more the merrier!). Women can play roles typically played by men and men can play roles usually played by women now. Horror is the most progressive and socially conscious genre there is. Isn’t that why we love it so much?
Regardless, I recommend giving The Covenant a second chance, especially with school starting back up and the fall season approaching. It’s the perfect time of the year to start fresh at Spencer Academy before going straight into celebrating witches, goblins, and ghouls! Grab your friends, have a good time, and let yourself drool over these guys if you’re into that sort of thing.
I mean, it gets at least one cool point for opening with More Human Than Human by White Zombie, right?
Let me know what you think about The Covenant or if you have any thoughts on this hot take over at Nightmare on Film Street’s Horror Movie Fiends Club or on Twitter.