RUNNING TIME: 89 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The mother of Annie and Nicole has just died. She didn’t treat her daughters very well, and consequently the two sisters argue over the final preparations for and attendance at their mother’s funeral. Annie finally decides that although she hated her mother, she needs to be there for Nicole during this trying period and return to the place she hates the most … home. Following the argument Nicole makes a video call to her daughter to say goodnight, only to be interrupted by a presence in the house. When Annie arrives at the house, Nicole is nowhere to be found. Initially not too worried because Nicole had a habit of taking off when there was trouble, Annie is increasingly pestered by spooky occurrences in the house and decides she needs help to find out what is going on…….
The Pact is a fairly conventional, some might say, unremarkable, chiller which is nonetheless pretty well done and should just about keep most horror fans reasonably happy throughout its running time. I wouldn’t say it’s quite as frightening as the poster quotes make out and it seems like it’s going to get, but then different people are terrified by different things, I mean The Blair Witch Project did nothing for me yet I still haven’t dared to view Insidious again because I was almost climbing the walls! The Pact was expanded from a short film, also called The Pact, by writer/director Nicholas McCarthy and you could say that the movie is a little ‘stretched’ out, with a few aspects seemingly there to pad things out, but I rather enjoyed its relaxed pace, the way it takes its time.
Paranormal Activity is it seems the model for the early scenes, with loud noises, lights going off and other eerie things happen in what is some considerable tension building, though there is nobody carrying around a camera here! One really creepy bit has Nicole make a video call to her daughter, to be told that someone is standing behind her! Really effective, and yet very simple. The short film apparently did not actually show any ghosts etc, at all, but it was felt necessary to be less ambiguous with the feature film. There are some sudden shock appearances which may very well make you jump [a bit with just a shadow was the one that got me], but McCarthy resorts to the overused device of a loud musical sting to enhance the jump scares, something I think is lazy. Half the time you just don’t need them. Now I’ve already said that The Pact didn’t quite scare me as much as it tried to, and I found it a little frustrating in this respect, because it builds up and builds up, and starts to deliver the rush horror fans get from being terrified out of their minds, but doesn’t quite climax strongly enough, to use a perhaps unfortunate saying. That might just be me though, because I possibly expected more; it seemed that some members of the audience I saw the movie with were satisfyingly scared indeed!
A flaw which quite a few spook stories like this have is that, when the ‘investigating’ begins, the movie loses much of its edge and it becomes more about people just finding out stuff. It’s a flaw which is excusable, and The Pact does its best to get around this by still throwing in the odd scare moment and doing its best to maintain its atmosphere, something which it almost succeeds in. There is an uneasy oddness about some scenes, especially one where Annie visits an old school friend who is a psychic and everyone seems stoned or in some other state which extremely loud industrial metal music plays. Another scene I really liked was one in a park where nothing is really happening but the augmented sound of the wind blowing the trees and grass creates a strange feeling which is both peaceful and creepy. It reminded somewhat of Phenomena, where Dario Argento created a similar atmosphere from the countryside.
One review of The Pact compared it to Paranormal Activity and Insidious though I don’t really agree with the second comparison. Instead I detected echoes of Stir Of Echoes and a few other films which I won’t mention for fear of giving away too much, but I will say that the film changes direction about three fifths of the way in. I was initially disappointed with the way things were turning out, and I think some others will be too, while the Big Twist, which seems to come from nowhere, leaves a few things which are dying to be explained a little more. The more I think about it though, the ending of the story makes sense in terms of the early scenes introducing us to the screwed up family that features in the movie. In any case, the final scenes are pretty nail biting, and are all the more effective for not being too noisy. This sounds like a weird thing to say, but so many horror films rely on great noise for their climaxes that it’s nice to see one that doesn’t, and besides it can really work. I recently watched the original Black Christmas again recently and still think its climax is incredible, yet it’s virtually silent.
The Pact suffers from having at least one character who does not actually need to be in it, but I doubt many will criticise the direction. The Pact is one of the best directed horror films I’ve seen in a while, with a cold elegance that reminded me of Stanley Kubrick. McCarthy wants us to see things [not enough horror movies use Christian iconography in an ominous, sinister way, rather than the usual reassuring, friendly presentation], to take in the set design and have time to think about what you are seeing. Bridger Neilson’s camera slowly glides around the characters, down a hallway and sometimes into darkness, daring us to follow. There’s very little of the overly frantic filming that is everywhere these days. There are also no computer effects. This isn’t really a gory movie, but there are a couple of bits of nastiness and I’ll be damned if they don’t look more convincing than all the CG gore I’ve seen in the last few recent horror films. I suppose it’s just what you grow up with; I’m sure many younger film watchers find CGI looks better, but to me it usually looks far too obvious, like it just isn’t there.
Caity Lotz, in her first cinema role, is very good as the lead. She has a pretty face that is nice to look at but also gives the impression of having been through much pain and torment. I believed her character right from the offset. Casper Van Dien is an actor I frankly used to think was awful but he seems to have improved with age; I actually looked forward to his rasping character’s appearances in this movie. Ronen Landa’s score was mixed a little loud for my liking but does the job in helping the atmosphere, and Landa seems to know when silence is as effective as sound. Overall I liked The Pact; it doesn’t give you much that is new, preferring to stay in its comfort zone, and I think it could have done with elaboration of a few details and perhaps ramping things up just a little in parts, but it’s still very pleasing and very successful as a first-time feature, and Nicholas McCarthy reveals considerable talent that makes me look forward considerably to his next film.