A sister wants answers, but the ghosts aren’t talking…
Writer/director Nicholas McCarthy originally created THE PACT as a short, which played at Sundance. Three days later, he had a deal for this full-fledged feature – and the result doesn’t disappoint.
Annie (Caity Lotz) and her sister Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) recently lost their mother. Blonde-haired Annie could care less, but Nicole encourages her sister to get to mom’s house before the viewing. After Annie arrives – there’s no Nicole, except a house of mystery that plays on the woman’s nerves as if the oppressive mother and her domination seeps out of the walls to smother her completely. When she discovers a secret room she simply can’t recall, Annie’s on a mission to find her sister, and to find out what kind of Hell mother had put them through in their childhood. Once again, we visit a home – a sanctuary and protective womb – that undermines that very notion and presents itself as another illusion of safety. The claustrophobic element turns this supposed oasis from the nightmares of the outside world into a house of terror.
Right from the beginning, we know this is not some third rate low budget feature to laugh at or easily dismiss. McCarthy gets it right by allowing Lotz to embrace her character and fly. Annie’s grit and concern, and her penchant for anger and vulnerability, presents a woman who has survived a tumultuous childhood, but won’t cry in a corner and beg someone to save her. Well, she sort of does with Bill Creek (Casper Van Dien), but only when Annie needs him to believe that she’s not responsible for a lost soul or two. Van Dien also brings a rough edge to his role, and instead of appearing like some stock cop from a glamorized television show, he looks like an Alcoholics Anonymous member that has fallen off the wagon and had one to many bottles of Thunderbird.
Even before we get to know the characters, however, Bridger Nielson’s cinematography completely establishes the mood with yellowed tones and the best possible lighting that keeps the bright areas bright, and the dark regions oh so dark. This excellent balance, and a camera that always seems to be encroaching, reluctantly drags the audience along towards the dark underbelly of Annie and her sister’s frenzied world of angst. Adding to the photography is Ronen Landa’s original music that neither gives away a coming monster (think of 1978’s HALLOWEEN), or serves as a distraction (such as 2012’s [REC]3: GENESIS from Spain). The established tone is further enhanced by a steady pace and an ambience of sheer unease, that keeps one glued to the screen, for at any moment, Annie’s world can come crushing down around her.
Annie becomes a sort of wounded detective on the march, and soon discovers that her mother had hidden one horrific secret in a house that had been far removed from being a safe haven for two little girls. Though one can say THE PACT is “Bad Ronald” (the 1974 television horror) meets the mute ghost from (add Asian horror of choice here), they’re missing the point. McCarthy has created a strong dramatic horror that brings the suspense, and then some – and like John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), leaves some little mysteries behind for us to talk about. No, it is not perfect, and there are similarities to many other movies in the genre, but this remains a viable character study full of potent dialogue and disturbing subtlety. Most important, since he’s mastered the element of tension and tone, I cannot wait to see what he brings next – and I hope you cannot wait either.
3.5 out of 5 stars