Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Covenant & The Descent

One of my least favorite things in movies is when I can't tell characters apart. Atrociously bad movies and even many good movies often have easy to read characterizations --partially because most characters get just one or two personality traits (the angry one, the rebellious one, etc...) But if you have a group scene and you're still trying to learn the names and a casting director has cast look-alikes: good luck. You're on your own.

I'm not proud to admit it but I saw Renny Harlin's The Covenant today. Though it's straight up bad in every way I found the casting of the leads to be especially confusing. These two guys to your left are the hero and the villain. They aren't dead ringers but close enough. They both are blessed with Abercrombie bodies and puffy sensual lips. The movie doesn't help sort them out. They are given similar wardrobes and similar haircuts.

And just to f*** with me a little more --here's another cosmic joke: The actors have alliterative names: Sebastian Stan and Steven Strait and so do the characters: They play "Chase" and "Caleb" respectively. Argh.

Further compounding the problem is this: the movie is one of the thousands shot with no discernable visual identity of its own. It uses that cold blueish filter (a look has been ubiquitous at least since the days of Terminator 2) which makes everyone's skin tone the same, too. When you get to the climactic fight between the hero and villain it turns out they have identical superpowers: creating balls of boring CGI energy to hurl at each other. They both have the same color contacts to signify the use of their powers. Worse yet, the movie can't even be bothered to give them different colored energy balls. Couldn't it at least have been like a lightsaber thing? I mean a lightsaber is a lightsaber but you could always tell which one belonged to whom based on its color. Work with me here filmmakers --at least a little.

I had the same problem to a lesser degree with the much better horror film The Descent. It took me awhile before I was able to differentiate the lead blond girl from the other blondes. But that was really only a problem during the initial cave sequences when they were all wearing the same headgear and filmed in groups. Once the carnage started whittling down the size of the cast and their equipment it became easier.

I admit right up front that I'm not the right audience for horror films. I often feel I'm missing the subtext since it's a genre so many cinephiles seem to both adore and engage with intellectually. So I leave the love to Nick and Rich who both offer excellent, thought-provoking reviews which were more fun for me to read (as a non aficianado of the genre) than the movie was for me to watch. Despite my aversion to horror, I thought The Descent was 100 times better than the last film I saw which happened to feature a girl being hunted in a subterannean locale... so that must be saying something.

The Covenant: potentially interesting premise (maybe a series or a comic book would've worked better to flesh out the constantly intruding backstory) but absolutely flat execution. D-
The Descent: surprisingly frisky horror but still not really my cuppa. B


adam k. said...

I feel like the Covenant should earn than a D- just for having those two to look at the whole time, no? But whatever. Why have I never even heard of this film? I guess I'll steer clear. I hope with all these D- type bombs, you'll give us a sweet "worst of the year" feature, Nathaniel. I want specific categories with big winners/losers.

I ALMOST saw the Descent with my aunt like a month ago, and still haven't seen it. Really want to.

adam k. said...

Also Nathaniel, are you ever planning on seeing World Trade Center? Don't. It's really not very good at all. Though you may of course just want to have an informed opinion.


i keep planning to go to it and than just b-lining to a different show once i'm at the theater. I just have no interest.

i realize for oscar-talking purposes I probably should but i'm just waiting until my self forces me. says, self! get in that theater.

anybody who likes horror films should see the descent though.

Glenn Dunks said...

They changed the ending though for the US.

(that is all I have to say on the matter)

Beau said...

I thought The Descent was spectacular. It didn't offer anything new to the genre, but it was so expertly done and so masterfully executed (with killer thrills and chills and a considerable amount of tension), I couldn't help but fall in love.

and I heart Shauna MacDonald.

(btw Kamikase, I thought the ending to the U.S. version worked rather well. I read the alternative ending, and personally, i think both of them end the film well.)


either ending is pretty bleak if you ask me so they serve the film that way -given its pitch black view of things.

adam k. said...

Whoa, Nathaniel, when did you see Shortbus??? Why isn't this bigger news? A- sounds pretty impressive, given your other grades thus far this year. I was hoping it'd be a masterpiece. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

I have also seen The Covenant and The Descent. I give the Covenant a C because I liked the style it was filmed in and it had some creepy scenes. I give the Descent an A. So scary and so well made, it just blew me away.


shortbus doesn't come out for another month... so i'm waiting to write about it. (plus i'm hoping to see it again beforehand)

i have NO idea how people will react to it. It's definitely it's own unique thing. I keep teetering between B+ and A- but I always do that at first. I need to let movies settle. one of the main reasons I hate that 28 movies come out at Christmas. How to process them all so quickly before making a top ten list.


Jason Adams said...

I'm proud of you for giving The Descent a chance, Nathaniel! I liked it very much, and have actually been considering seeing it again before it leaves theaters because it has sat in the back of my brain since watching it. But then, I'm a horror freak and inclined to appreciate these things more. Still, happy you gave it a chance!

Do you think Renny Harlin had it in his contract that his name wouldn't be used to sell The Covenant? You'd think they would've loved to use a "From the director of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger" in the previews. I had no idea he directed it til reading it at AICN this week. Not that I'm a fan of his (though The Long Kiss Goodnight is terrific), but I def. get the feeling from the reviews I've read and the awful trailers that he was just getting paid here.


JA, if you're going to give it a second chance it's got to be now. when I saw it this weekend I was LITERALLY the only person in the theater (can't recall the last time that happened but it's been a long long long time). Which made the movie even scarier in a way.

Glenn Dunks said...

oh dear god, that IS frightening. I've had it where only me and my friend were only ones in the cinema (which helped for Pitch Black but didn't help one iota for the American The Ring, which was just crap through and through).

I've also been by myself but had one other person show up.

It's weird only being yourself there though. I feel bad, as if I'm wasting the cinema's time. lol. I'm so considerate.