Director Robert Conway presented his latest horror film ‘The Covenant’ at a free screening on Saturday. Held at Sun Studios in Tempe, the screening provided an opportunity for cast, crew and the general public to view Conway’s latest film before becoming available on VOD February 7.
Leukemia suffering Elisabeth (Amelia Haberman) drowns in the bathtub and only hours after her funeral, her dad Adam (Chris Mascarelli) offs himself following an angry rebuke of his wife Sarah (Monica Engesser). With her family now tragically gone, Sarah packs her belongings and, with her recovering alcoholic brother Richard (Owen Conway), they head to their empty childhood home in Globe, Arizona. Richard’s plan for relaxation and reconciliation at the old place backfires big time, as the familiar surroundings only seem to force Sarah further into a frightening funk. Some locals drop by for a howdy-do but hightail it out of the haunted house after experiencing Sarah’s witchy weirdness. Ghostly apparitions of her dead daughter begin to appear late at night, and Sarah takes to the kitchen cutlery, mutilating herself at every opportunity. Richard tries his best to keep his sister from reaching full blown cuckoo, but the stress becomes too much for him as he is constantly hounded by a mean and mysterious Man in Black (Richard Lippert), harangued by a hyper-religious xanthodontic neighbor (Maria Olsen), and the bar down the street keeps offering extended happy hours with half price appetizers! Completely out of options, Richard enlists the help of the local priest (Sanford Gibbons) who recommends that Richard place an urgent call to the ASU Department of Screwball Beliefs. Richard makes the call, and the Mormon Institute of Religion redirects him to Father Francis Campbell (Clint James) who is currently presenting his favorite YouTube exorcism videos. The battle for Sarah’s soul ensues when Richard, the priest and his bungling assistant try to rescue poor suffering Sarah as she endures a relentless evening of shape shifting, possession and repossession.
The Covenant is definitely director Conway’s most stylized film to date. After suffering through the cringe-worthy dearth of his previous film “Krampus: Unleashed” (2016), Conway has regrouped and rebounded with a calm and well tempered offering that presents a much more serious approach to directing and certainly a more focused effort towards telling a story. This film is really quite a departure for Conway, escaping the spastic, frenetic pace of previous productions and allowing the bleak, minimalist setting to build suspense and a claustrophobic gloom. Owen Conway and Monica Engesser work well together on screen and the subtle, creeping hints at incest are exquisitely and frighteningly played out in demure gestures and seemingly innocuous references. While Engesser dominated Conway’s “Krampus: The Reckoning” (2015), her presence in The Covenant slowly fades from the screen, and this film clearly becomes Owen Conway’s show. We collectively ache for the poor ne’er do well as we watch his only accomplishment in life; 2 years of sobriety, being ripped from his grasp by supernatural forces. The serious props for this film have to go to relative indie newcomer Richard Lippert as the creepy and frighteningly unsympathetic Man in Black. Lippert approaches his character coyly and craftily, easily duping all of us early on into thinking he will somehow provide the positive outcome to these terrifying events. Photography is excellent and consistent throughout the film, as we often get to see little more than a blank wall or a curtain-less window in the background, yet the angles, shadows and splashes of light continuously create a sad and hopeless tension from which there is no relief.
As a demonic possession movie, The Covenant doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s more of a mish-mash of previous possession/exorcism flicks we’ve all seen before. There’s spewage, grotesque bodily transformations and plenty of devil made me do it lunacy in the film, with some interesting, subtle asides for texture. Without giving too much away, the transition from Sarah’s character as the central focus to her brother Richard is quite clever and does keep us dialed in for the duration of the film. The Covenant reveals Conway’s own assessment as he comes to terms with his personal beliefs, while at the same time trying out a new approach to filmmaking; easing off on the dialog a bit, pulling back the reigns a scosh and allowing the sinister cinematic landscape to be the driving force of the film.
- The Covenant
Richard enlists the help of an exorcist when his sister Sarah becomes possessed by a powerful demon.