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‘The Covenant’ a geek-friendly WB knock-off

Tale of supernatural prep-school swimmers not scary, just campy
/ Source: The Associated Press

Amazing that a movie about hot teenage warlocks trying to destroy each other at an elite New England boarding school would be withheld from critics before opening day.

That’s been the annoying trend with nearly all the horror movies that have come out this year — though all that’s truly scary about “The Covenant” are the words that appear before the title: “A Renny Harlin Film.”

This latest offering from the man behind “Cutthroat Island,” “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” and “Exorcist: The Beginning” feels more like the pilot for a geek-friendly prime-time drama on the old WB. It’s trying very hard to establish its own unique supernatural world, albeit one that functions squarely within a recognizable, contemporary setting. (References to the latest Brad Pitt movie or Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock N’ Roll” just feel weak and wedged in, though.)

Based on a script by J.S. Cardone, the film follows the pampered descendants of four families that have had extraordinary powers since they arrived in Massachusetts in the late 1600s.

Known as the Sons of Ipswich, Caleb (Steven Strait), Pogue (Taylor Kitsch), Reid (Toby Hemingway) and Tyler (Chace Crawford) — what’s with these names? what’s wrong with Dave or Mike? — are all stud competitive swimmers at the exclusive Spenser Academy, which is a great excuse for them to walk around with their shirts off.

But there was also a fifth family which was cut out of the covenant for being too power hungry. Or maybe their abs weren’t tight enough. Whatever. The longtime assumption was that the last bloodline died out — that is, until another unusually good-looking guy enrolls at Spenser Academy. And he can swim. And like the other four, his eyes flash with fire and then turn black when he’s about to brandish his powers.

As the sinister Chase Collins, Jason Priestley look-alike Sebastian Stan amps up the campy melodrama as he snarls his way through the dialogue. He’s especially over-the-top in tormenting Caleb’s new girlfriend (Laura Ramsey), who — horror of horrors! — transferred in from a Boston public school.

Harlin probably saved some money on the electrical bills — “The Covenant” seems to take place in a perpetual midnight under constant rain, which doesn’t help convey a mysterious, gothic mood; it’s just dreary. And there’s nothing thrilling about the big climactic showdown between Caleb and Chase, in which they hurl giant bubbles of energy at each other. It just looks like a couple of guys in a mime class.

Not nearly as cool as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”