When it comes to bad movies, (especially bad horror movies) there is a towering list of different tiers and categories. For the sake of brevity and the film in question, I’ll spotlight two very polar types; bad movies that are self-aware passion projects and bad movies that leave you irritatingly puzzled as to why they were made. Even if I don’t particularly like the film, a passion project will always get my respect, because I know there’s a beating heart at the center...
...That beating heart has good intentions and cares about the film’s lasting integrity. Whether the film is going for a campy, meta direction or a dead serious tale playing it straight, it knows what it is and there’s a sense of sincerity present. The bad movie that is neither self-aware nor interestingly flawed has no soul, passion, or engagement. A film like Death Race (2008) is a bad movie, but director Paul W.S. Anderson believed in his film and wanted to pay tribute to Roger Corman, who created and produced Death Race 2000 (1975). The enthusiasm bleeds through to the final product and like it or not, it’s not a film that was made for the wrong reasons. There’s love, passion and a special kind of energy built into films like that. Our friends over at High Octane Pictures have brought us the new film, Covenant. Director Manuel H. Da Silva has crafted us a bad movie, but what kind of bad film is it?
We begin our tale in the mid 1980’s where we witness a woman giving birth to a baby boy in a dark, labyrinthian forest. Not only is this an uncomfortable location, but her company is just as unsettling. She is surrounded by a hooded group of cultists, eager to receive (what they view as) their offering. Through a streak of luck, the mother and her child escape and are picked up by the local sheriff. Fast forward to present day, ‘the offering’ or, Ian Parker (Nick Smyth), has grown into a selfish, insufferable man, resorting to drugs and alcohol to dull the edge of his past. He’s been informed that his mother has passed away and he needs to return to his small hometown to handle her affairs. The town has all the trappings and clichés of what we’ve come to expect from these kinds of scenarios and Ian, as you might guess, doesn’t fit in well. Soon after his arrival, strange paranormal events begin to take place and it becomes clear that the cultists are still very much active in the area. Without giving too much away, Ian’s son ends up in the cultic shenanigans and he must race against time to destroy or uncover the secrets that died with his mother.
Nick Smyth is hands down the best part of this film. His performance is a true feat, as the material he’s working with is very poor. Smyth manages to keep the film feeling urgent by reacting appropriately to the paranormal oddities around him, as well as his supporting cast. Even though he’s a character you ultimately don’t like very much, his vulnerable position makes him easy to connect with. Undoubtedly, Ian has suffered severe trauma and abandonment and it comes through relatively well on screen. As far as the other actors are concerned, there really isn’t much to say, other than they range from serviceable to forgettable. Everyone is pretty bad here, but I really don’t count too much against them, as there isn’t much for them to work with. Writers Ken Cardwell and Jeff Carr have written a jumbled mess of a script and while I don’t think they meant for it to turn out as messy as it did, it doesn’t lend itself well for the actors to connect with their characters. I’m sure these actors are just fine in their own right and I would be curious to see many of them in different films.
While the acting is poor and sometimes laughable, the film’s biggest offense is its visual effects. I know that we at Killerhorrorcritic.com always take into consideration budgetary constraints, but the visual effects here are awful and what’s worse is they don’t need to be. I never speak or write in hyperbole, so when I say the effects look like something that can be accomplished on built-in PC editing software, you know I’m not stretching the truth. Most of the effect shots could have been used practically and it would have served it much better. They simply don’t need to be there. Blue bolts of lightning shooting out of thin air to show that someone is being pushed back by an unseen force is just unnecessary. They also use green screen excessively and abuse its usefulness. I very rarely, if ever, attribute the removal of digital effects resulting in a better film, but here I hold no issue saying so. Even if they had cut back on its usage, I truly believe my review would pan out much different. I hope, if anything, this film will serve as a cautionary statement of sorts to sway filmmakers from using digital effects when unnecessary or when your effects resources are limited.
What the film ultimately ends up becoming is a race through the woods, stumbling upon a cultist or underworld spirit every now and again. When they do have an encounter, there’s rarely an explanation of why they are there and what they want. This would be fine if more was revealed near the end, but nothing is. I will give the film credit for the absence of cheap jump scares, which is always a win in my book. Also, while the film is fatigued with incoherently messy exposition, it does move at a good clip and there does seem to be a sense of urgency. It’s a film with constant movement and it does help camouflage the length of the film, which is a tad too long for a film like this.
Of all my many criticisms, I still don’t harbor any malice or spite towards this film. I don’t think any filmmaker actively tries to make a bad movie devoid of entertainment, either. It’s just a shame to see a film fail on almost every level. From a critical and entertainment standpoint, there’s just not anything I can recommend here, aside from Nick Smyth’s performance. I do hope this film serves as a learning tool, but unfortunately, it does not serve as a good piece of horror cinema.
Covenant is now available on Digital/DVD from High Octane Pictures.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth