You Need to Watch 'The Covenant,' a Film About Shirtless Male Witches
Collage by Callie Beusman
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You Need to Watch 'The Covenant,' a Film About Shirtless Male Witches

When "The Covenant" came out in 2006, it was universally panned. We rewatched the film and have decided that it's a masterpiece, mostly because it features a shirtless Tim Riggins and shirtless Nate from "Gossip Girl" doing witchcraft.
July 12, 2017, 2:33pm

Actually, It's Good is a new column in which we revisit movies that received less than a 15 percent critics' scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and re-rate them ourselves. This week, Callie Beusman and Diana Tourjee revisit "The Covenant" (2006).

Critics' Score: 3%
Broadly Score: 92.6%

The Covenant is a 2006 film that chronicles the adventures of four hot male witches—Tim Riggins, Nate from Gossip Girl, and two other hot men we don't recognize—as they engage in an inscrutable magical battle with another male witch, who is also hot. They are all on the swim team, even the bad one. Upon hearing these rudimentary facts about the motion picture, anyone with discerning taste will be rightfully appalled to learn that it has a mere three percent critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film opens with our heroes—who, as we learn, are known as the Sons of Ipswich—standing on a cliff, looking down upon a mysterious abyss. (According to Wikipedia, their names are Caleb, Reid, Tyler, and, incredibly, "Pogue." Pogue is played by Tim Riggins.) They all leap off into the gloom. As it turns out, this is fine, because they can fly, and are simply entering what appears to be an impromptu outdoor rave in the most inconvenient way possible. At the rave, everyone is clad in head-to-toe American Eagle and extremely amorous towards our sexy mid-2000s protagonists, who meet two transfer students upon arriving. One is a blonde young woman named Sarah, who will be the love interest for the lead male witch, Caleb; the other is named Chase, and he is played by Carter Baizen from Gossip Girl (sexy).

Read more: How 'The Babadook' Became a Queer Icon

What follows is an hour and 37 minutes documenting the dramatic corruption of an historical, magical covenant forged by the witchcraft settler families of Ipswich, from which these boys descended. The particulars of the covenant itself is never clarified as far as we recall, but basically an outsider (Carter Baizen) comes to Ipswich to steal the protagonists' powers—particularly the powers of Caleb, who is about to "ascend." What is ascending? We either were never told or don't remember. This summarizes one of the greatest and most perplexing themes underlying _The Covenan_t: It plunges the viewer into a complex alternative reality without deigning to explain it, or maybe it does, but we were too distracted by Tim Riggins to notice.

Screenshot of the chicken hand via 'The Covenant'

One of the central concerns for the Sons of Ipswich is the fact that you can get addicted to magic after your ascension, which occurs on your 18th birthday. This horrible fate is illustrated through an old man who appears sporadically throughout the film. He is always found reclining miserably in a stuffed chair in front of a fire, situated inside of a dirty, damp, and empty barn. His hand, which is frequently shot up close as it dangles from the arm of his cursed perch, resembles a wet chicken foot. It is later revealed that he is in his mid-40s, but that his uncontrollable addiction to "the power" caused him to become this elderly, clammy monstrosity. Most tragically, this wet chicken-handed man turns out to be the father of one of the sexiest sons of Ipswich, Caleb.

After watching this film and experiencing what can only be described as pure euphoria, we decided to peruse some of its contemporary reviews. We noticed a startling trend.
Time Out called the dialogue "excruciating," while Entertainment Weekly described it as "classic[ly] bad." A London publication added to a growing critic consensus, noting its "hilariously awful dialogue." We were taken aback: Why were we seeing so many critics mention dialogue? We could recall no bad dialogue in the cinematic experience.

His hand, which is frequently shot up close as it dangles from the arm of his cursed perch, resembles a wet chicken foot.

Upon reflection, however, we realized we couldn't remember any of the dialogue at all. There was one part, which numerous reviews mentioned, where Carter Baizen attacks Caleb and threatens to make him his "wiyotch." (A critic for the website Cinema Crazed wrote that this made him want "to incite a riot in the theater.") However, we viewed this one memorable line as extremely good, not bad, adding to our confusion.

Similarly, many critics lambasted the film for having no suspense. This, too, is untrue: Throughout it, we clutched at each other, asking when the men would take their shirts off and kiss. And even if the viewer were not on the edge of their seats awaiting explicit homoerotica on screen, surely everyone must have been on pins and needles, desperate to find out what happens to the strange wet chicken foot man. (Spoiler: He dies after generously giving away his power to his son in the form of lightning.)

Screenshot of the chicken hand via 'The Covenant'

The WordPress user who runs the blog In Search of Adam wrote of The Covenant as part of his "In Search of a Gay Film Review" column. In his review, he claims "the internet and its users have repeatedly accused The Covenant of being one of the gayest horror films ever made." Though he, too, trashed this under-appreciated classic, his take remains far more relatable to Broadly: "The film would have certainly disappeared into the ever-expanding, lackluster, horror movie black hole if not for its one saving grace: copious amounts of sexy, shirtless men."

Our only objections to this masterfully crafted film were the occasional whiffs of sexism, which clung to the film like mildew smell to the chicken man's hand. In one scene at a local pub, for instance, the Sons of Ipswich engage in a wager: What color underwear, they ponder, is a nearby woman wearing? "Boys, that girl hasn't worn panties since she was 12 years old," Tim Riggins intones. One of his fellow male witches then magically lifts her incredibly short skirt, revealing that Riggins is correct. Also, it shoehorns magic into constrictive masculinity—there is not a single female witch in sight for all 97 minutes, although the film's mythology heavily invokes the Salem Witch Trials.

Despite this shortcoming, we feel that The Covenant is by and large cast through the female witch gaze: The Sons of Ipswich are always made to wear skimpy clothing and expose their disgustingly hot bodies, and the viewer constantly feels as if these icons of early 21st century fame are about to kiss each other. In fact, they do kiss during one scene. At its best, The Covenant is a magical homoerotic utopia; at its occasional worst, it is like a very bad frat house.

Screenshot of the chicken hand via 'The Covenant'