Plot: schoolgirls dabble in witchcraft….
Contary to popular belief The Craft (1996) didn't immediately spawn a decade's worth of made-for-television imitations and direct-to-video rip-offs even though it arrived at the right time for such a thing to happen. Alas, the big home video boom of the 1980s had come to an end and continental European and South American exploitation had all but dried up in the wake of the market dominance of tentpole big budget Hollywood bilge. The coven and witchcraft (lesbian or otherwise) movie was very much a product of the 1970s Satanic Panic and its attendant hysteria that lasted well into the 1980s. The Craft (1996) took the gist of those psychedelic and psychotronic movies and distilled them into a herbalist wicca and alternative gothic lifestyle envisioned for the enlightened and empowered Lilith Fair crowd. It spoke to a generation of girls that grew up on strong, eloquent and enterprising young singer-songwriters as Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, Liz Phair, Jewel, Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow, Jann Arden, and the grandmother of them all, Suzanne Vega. Needless to say, The Craft (1996) became something of a commercial juggernaut that has continued to resonate with audiences and its legacy has long since overshadowed the movie itself. And then… nothing happened.
Well, there was Little Witches (1996) and that was about it for direct imitations. Or at least for the next decade. The Covenant (2006) was another imitation whose biggest novelty was the gender-swapping of the coven. Then there was the British equivalent The Coven (2015) about nine years later. Whereas that one got lost somewhere along the way and ended up stumbling into The Blair Witch Project (1999) territory (and never really recovered from that), Coven is more blatant (or is that honest?) about its thievery. Call it a homage, a reimagining, or a modern day remake. Call it what you will. Either way these rip-offs aren't what they used to be. This one has school girls (whether they’re Catholic is never made really clear) that are witches but demons and spirits of darkness aren’t anywhere to be seen. Starring nobody in particular and written as an almost scene-by-scene imitation of The Craft (1996) this Coven is neither scary nor very occult or pagan. The girls are pretty enough but none are Fairuza Balk or Sheeri Rappaport. You have a problem when Terri Ivens is your biggest star. Ivens is probably best known to the world at large for playing “Girl #2” in Marked for Death (1990). Coven will make you wish for the faithful recycling of Little Witches (1996).
A coven of undergrad witches – ringleader Ronnie (Jennifer Cipolla, as Jenny Cipolla), her second-in-command and girlfriend Jax (Miranda O'Hare), hormonically-charged Taylor (Jessica Louise Long), psychic Emily (Sofya Skya) and meek and complacent Beth (Margot Major) – has gathered for their nocturnal invocation to Ashura, a powerful witch that was defeated by another coven some 200 years before. During the Calling of the 4 Quarters Ronnie loses her patience and accidently kills Christy (Sara Stretton). Requiring the full power of the coven to complete the ritual Ronnie instructs Beth to find and recruit a suitable candidate. Her eye falls on Sophie (Lizze Gordon) who has lost her mother (Jill Deluca) but shows no immediate interest in joining the coven. An enlighting séance with Emily helps opening Sophie’s mind to the idea. On the campus history professor Dr. Lynn (Terri Ivens) has suspicions of mystic going-ons at the faculty. The girls have their own lives too. Taylor wants nothing more than to the horizontal mambo with stoner Zak (Aaron James) and Sophie is far more interested in getting into the pants of James (Adam Horner) than with any of the boring day-to-day matters of the coven. When Ronnie kills another member of the coven to absorp her powers Sophie and Beth bundle their forces to stop her once and for all…
For a movie proudly written and directed by women Coven spents inordinate amount of time gawking at these witches and their skimpy black lingerie at virtually every turn. For a supposed clan of misfits, quirky goths or a random assortment of social pariahs all them are conventionally beautiful blondes, brunettes, and gingers. As expected, the depiction of witchcraft is goofy and cartoony. This one has its witches throwing around and launching their spells as if they’re in a DC or Marvel superhero movie (or a video game, whichever you prefer). Authenticity wasn’t high on the list of priorities and if you expect the herbalist/nature worship of The Craft (1996) – look elsewhere. The problems pretty much start from the first scene with the summoning of Ashura. Unlike what Coven would want you to believe Ashura is not some obscure or arcane pagan deity but a day of commemoration for Shia Muslims and one of celebratory fasting for Sunni Muslims. Likewise, there’s no no autumn solstice, the closest thing there is is the equinox. Good to see that these movies still couldn't be bothered to Google what they're talking about. There isn’t a lot of meat to Lizze Gordon’s script and it very faithfully follows every major plotline and/or character arc of The Craft (1996). For whatever reason, this one has a distinctly Caucasian cast and there isn’t a minority in sight. Where in The Craft (1996) the girls actually wore what you’d expect of social outcasts here they sport fashion of the y2k futurist aesthetic. Why? Are these witches or rave chicks? The pounding club score admits as much. Admittedly, the Mario Bava and Dario Argento inspired blue-red lighting is a nice touch. Oh yeah, and apropos of nothing, the witch cult scenes in Lucero (2019) were more convincing and there they had practically nothing to do with the mainplot.
Thank fuck none of the girls is named Faith. Movies like this are giving critics a crisis of faith and there’s nothing graceful about that. Don’t expect any Shakespeare or Baudelaire quotes. Gordon’s script is not nearly smart enough for that. If you’re expecting Catholic school girls in plaid skirts, knee-high socks and half-open shirts corrupting a wholesome, studious Christian girl, you’re shit out of luck. The sapphic allusions or suggestions are extremely mild and timid. Whereas Little Witches (1996) had Sheeri Rappaport unbuttoning her shirt, spilling out her breasts, and lifting her skirt before ferociously dry-humping a confessional with whorish aplomb, none of that will be happening here. Coven is so tame it doesn’t even have the gall to include the girls doing any skyclad incantations from dusty, leatherbound Latin tomes around smoke-filled cauldrons in mouldy caves. There’s not even a rubbery demonic monster in the finale to this. Coven will make you wish it so much as had Sheeri Rappaport dancing around in the nude in an apartment window. For all its posturing Coven is dreadfully bereft of bare-naked Catholic schoolgirls, heresy, blasphemy or even anything remotely transgressive or provocative. Coven doesn't even have the guts to commit to the sleaze, heresy, and lesbian histrionics the way The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973), Black Magic Rites (1973), and Alucarda (1977) had the cojones to. None of these girls seem ready to commit to the role in the ways Rosalba Neri, Rita Calderoni, or Tina Romero were back in the old days. Oh, the good old days of witchcraft movies. You know a movie is pretty fucking terrible when Don't Deliver Us From Evil (1971) and even Blood Sabbath (1972) did this whole spiel better half a century ago.