Jun 20 2012 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge
THE Pact is a horror that tells the story of Annie (Caity Lotz) and her struggles to cope with her mother’s death and the disappearance of her sister Nicole (Agnes Bruckner).
Both incidents are connected to Annie’s childhood home so she enlists the help of detective Creek (Casper Van Dien) and clairvoyant Stevie (Haley Hudson) to determine whether the unsettling supernatural presence in the house is responsible.
The Pact starts out as a fairly typical ‘haunted house’ tale, albeit in a dingy bungalow as opposed to a gothic mansion, but develops into something more.
The film garnered some decent buzz when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year but while there are some satisfying scares and an interesting ending that I’ll get to later, it suffers from a feel of familiarity.
The increase of dread with a largely single character in her home mirrors Uruguayan horror The Silent House and late developments are a bit Toolbox Murders.
Mid-air thrashing about of characters by an invisible entity is an ever-increasing presence in the Paranormal Activity movies and distorted images in photographs smacks of classic J-Horror Ringu.
But debut feature film writer and director Nicholas McCarthy deserves praise for rising above these ‘been there, seen that’ moments to create a creepy, mostly unsettling watch.
His framing of dark, open doorways and use of silence fills the classic horror template of letting the audience imagine what could jump out at them at any second.
He also pans his camera around the house, getting into every nook and cranny too with some close-ups, and this panning motion results in lively jump scares.
Scares helped by Ronen Landa’s screechy, nails on blackboard-type score.
McCarthy starts and ends his film with close-ups of characters’ eyes and this feeling of someone watching you grows as the movie progresses.
There’s a desaturated, dusty colour palette and an ironic use of a Christmas time setting, given the secrets revealed about Annie’s family’s history.
Heated early exchanges between Annie and Nicole hint at a troubled past involving their mother (“have you forgotten what she used to do to us?”) and the revelations just keep on coming.
Lotz makes her big screen bow after some television acting and she carries the film well. You can tell she’s suffering from plenty of emotional baggage and she also copes with the increased physicality of the role.
Some of the story feels a bit too convenient (Annie just happens to remember Hudson’s weird looking clairvoyant from high school) and one of my old cinema ‘favourites’, the Google search, is wheeled out again to help explain the film’s mystery.
Oh, and speaking of weird looking, how old has Van Dien got? I remember his fresh face in Starship Troopers and now he’s a grizzled presence. Time flies.
And as for the film’s big twist? It is very surprising and helps The Pact become something more than just a supernatural thriller, but it does stretch credibility.
But there’s enough slow-burn suspense and flair behind the camera here to suggest McCarthy is one to watch.
And at its best, The Pact has a sufficient amount of scares and creepy antagonists to satisfy horror fans.
Rating – 6 out of 10.