A man travels to an abandoned cabin in the woods after his late mother— who had an association with a cult— dies mysteriously and unexpectedly…a promising premise, right?
Manuel H. Da Silva’s COVENANT allegedly opens in the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest in the year 1984. I assume this is to peddle off the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, but nothing about this opening sequence would indicate this, as nothing about it screams ‘80s nostalgia. In fact, even the very first scene feels unpolished: a young woman is giving birth to a baby, while Eyes Wide Shut cultist lookalikes squawk at her to “push, you little bitch,” because they want the baby, for whatever reason.
We cut to the present day, and the lead Ian (Nick Smyth) is carrying around a flip phone (do people still use flip phones?). Right off the bat, Ian is unlikable, so it’s difficult to get on his side. He leaves behind his son for his travels, and we get the sense that the mother of his son/Ian’s ex despises him (and probably for good reason.) He gives off an air of entitlement and cockiness that (sometimes) translates to ironically watchable— even if the actor’s makeup is caked on so much it’s distracting. The writers at least give him (some) sense of a character arc by the film’s second half, after he meets a potential love interest that knows her way around a gun.
As the film sorely suffers from a low budget, much of the acting and effects feel amateurish— with the occasional bloody body explosions and monster makeup reveal in the film’s climax being the only exceptions. Sound design is also weak, as monstrous growls and gunshots are not to be believed. However, if the script was a tad stronger, the lack of budget wouldn’t even matter— but, sadly, Ian’s central storyline and his quest to dig into why his mother’s cryptic note told him to come here in the first place are wholly uninteresting. I found myself checking out multiple times.
Da Silva’s direction is questionable and often insulting to the audience, as the camera lens doesn’t give us enough credit and deliberately points out things that we’ve already noticed. Da Silva’s strange choice to shoot a sex scene from an arms-length level in a wide-angle is visually unappealing.
COVENANT often feels tonally cheesy and crude for no validated reason. With the exception of one solid, well-placed jump scare that genuinely got me, COVENANT lacks the thrills. A scare sequence with a girl whose hair hangs in her face a la Samara from The Ring just feels corny. Jokes don’t land in the slightest. But, the biggest sin of all is the film’s foulness— and not in a way that feels earned or entertaining— just off-putting. At one point, Ian calls an Asian man “Jackie Chan,” because he didn’t respond to him immediately. It’s just…icky.
I will give props to the filmmakers for creating a bit of a jolting ending, even if it’s a tad too abrupt. Just when you’re starting to feel a bit of empathy for Ian, everything backfires for him, and nothing ends particularly happily. Perhaps I would’ve taken this more seriously, though, if I didn’t have poor, bluish lightning effects overtaking the film’s attempts at poignancy during every 5 minutes. Nothing about the film could even be memorable enough for campy, B-movie, cult-classic status.
COVENANT is now available on Digital and Disc from High Octane Pictures.