Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Robert Conway
Writer: Robert Conway, Owen Conway, Christopher R. Smith
Producer: Robert Conway, Justin Anderson
Stars: Monica Engesser, Owen Conway, Clint James, Sanford Gibbons, Maria Olsen, Shawn Saavedra, Richard Lippert
A brother and sister struggle to heal from family tragedy only to uncover an even greater horror inside their childhood home.
Sarah Doyle is in no condition to care for herself mentally or emotionally following the death of her daughter Elizabeth and subsequent suicide of her husband Adam. So her brother Richard steps up to help Sarah settle into their disused childhood home, hoping a touch of family and familiarity might do the grieving woman some good.
Tragedy and old houses are a dangerous cocktail on the road to recovery in a horror movie. Sarah’s personal journey is no exception, as she is almost immediately feeling her flesh burn, waking from nightmares, and experiencing haunting visions that have her convinced Elizabeth is returning from the dead.
Meanwhile, a mysterious man in black has cryptic warnings for Richard that the story about how Elizabeth died may not be the truth. After a fanatically religious neighbor takes time out from peeping through blinds to warn that he should leave the house, Richard isn’t sure if he is a magnet for crackpots or if something truly sinister is stirring.
A priest’s intervention ultimately confirms fears thought impossible. The new trouble emerging for Richard and Sarah doesn’t only concern past ghosts and unhealed trauma. Their family appears afflicted by demonic possession. And the only way the siblings can be saved is with an old fashioned exorcism.
I knew enough to not have high hopes for “The Covenant” given the much to be desired, to put it mildly, quality of director Robert Conway’s “Krampus: The Reckoning” (review here) and “Krampus Unleashed” (review here). But branding an automatic scarlet letter A for ‘avoid’ on the basis of two bizarrely bad DTV Xmas fright flicks seemed potentially premature. I thought it fair to see what Conway and company might be capable of when not having to adhere to constraints of cheap holiday horror.
While the needle doesn’t move much with “The Covenant,” it moves in the right direction. Lo-fi sights and sounds of oversaturated colors and inconsistent audio are in full swing, yet acting occasionally hits a birdie considering what par typically is at this low-budget level. Now if the production team can structure a script with a peppier pace that doesn’t chew up and spit out half-baked mythology, the next effort might break over the midpoint on the rating scale.
Monica Engesser and Owen Conway, the latter of whom reminds of a cross between Ted Raimi and John D. LeMay, are return performers from “Krampus: The Reckoning.” Engesser is better at leading a movie than previously, though there is still a great deal of green for both actors to cover going forward.
Earning more mentions are supporting performances. Clint James might make a better hippie diet guru than demonology expert priest, yet he still comes across as convincing enough, up until he has to widen eyes and grit teeth during an obligatory “I cast you out!” moment.
Laura Durant stands out by being nearly unnoticeable as a neighbor in two scenes. Hers is a largely inconsequential character, yet it plays as authentic and that gives it value. Family or friends often fill lesser roles in microbudget movies and they always read as exactly what they are: amateur actors. Casting people who have professional credits on the backside of their headshots makes a world of difference, never mind how small the part, and “The Covenant” is better off for it.
Audibly hard edits in ambient audio serve as reminders that technical execution could stand for a belt tightening. The chin’s urge to touch the chest reminds that drawn out drama is not the direction to take when dealing with a typical itinerary for a small demonic possession tale.
“The Covenant’s” spotty aesthetics and unexciting story hold it back from a recommendation no matter what. I’m otherwise inclined to award a higher score on the Krampus improvement curve alone. However, “The Covenant” ranks as low as it does in large part because of an incest element that doesn’t sit right when all is said and done.
There’s a dicey line between entertaining use and exploitive shock when it comes to depicting incest. It fits in “Flowers in the Attic” because of that series’ soap opera salaciousness, and something such as “Amityville II: The Awakening” doesn’t spend any longer than necessary on its inclusion.
“The Covenant’s” incest angle isn’t terribly sleazy. It makes sense for what this particular plot wants to do with its final payoff. But the use lingers more than it has to, becoming an uncomfortable distraction as a result. Specifically, had the film not included the intimacy of the final scene, the idea would be easier to digest instead of feeling like such a gagging finger down the throat.
A predominantly two-person exorcism/haunting story done on a dime doesn’t stand much chance of being a barnburner to begin with. “The Covenant” appears to be trying its best anyway, albeit futilely, and for that I give Conway and his crew credit.
Review Score: 35