DIRECTOR Nicholas McCarthy WRITER Nicholas McCarthy STARS Caity Lotz; Casper Van Dien; Mark Steger DVD & BLU-RAY 1 October
As a horror film that juxtaposes the supernatural with real-life threat, The Pact is a reasonable effort; the latter element does come as a surprise. The impact does however fizzle out, ultimately, letting down what, up until then, is a fairly promising film.
Opening just after the death of an abusive mother, one of her daughters, Nicolle, is seeing to affairs at the house. Her sister, Annie, reluctantly journeys to assist, but by the time she arrives, Nicolle has already disappeared. The only trace is her mobile phone, discarded in the broom cupboard. It soon becomes clear to Annie that she is dealing with a malevolent presence in the house, its religious paraphernalia offering no protection, as her cousin also goes missing and she herself is dragged and thrown around by an invisible force.
The film holds a very strong point in maintenance of mystery. The house’s presence could either be the abusive mother returning to taunt her daughters, or perhaps another being that influenced her behaviour in the first instance. Glimpses are fleeting — this is not adhered to later, unfortunately — and there is good camerawork that creates this foreboding presence, crawling corridors, approaching doors, whilst attention to lighting, Nicolle lit to appear as a silhouette at one point, complements this sense of haunting. When clues begin to present themselves to Annie, the tone effectively shifts from victimisation to logical problem-solving; it feels like the natural next step, whilst remaining a ghost story. When a stabbing administered by a human being occurs, it is unexpected due to the previous emphasis on ghostliness, but does not jar, director/writer Nicholas McCarthy taking the wise decision to show no more than the abusing hand. Three strands to The Pact that all work together for mystery, and do so well.
The soundtrack is rather intrusive at points, which was a mistake, introducing impact to scenes — indeed a whole film — that do not require it. Mystery is a quiet undertone that ought not to be disturbed; a frustratingly common misunderstanding from American filmmakers. Also, it must be said that the title itself only makes a very tenuous sense, in that perhaps there was a pact between the dead mother and the film’s villain. These however are not the main criticisms for The Pact: that would be the final act, where intrigue earned prior ultimately unravels around the film’s real-life element. McCarthy simply did not write enough story here to make anything other than a somewhat clumsy rush to the finale possible; introducing the relevant character earlier and developing more history around him would have paid dividends, creating more of a balance. The disc includes the original short as an extra, which illustrates the point, McCarthy stretching out his original idea with not enough thought for a truly meaningful feature.
Saying that, these criticisms do not completely outweigh the positives to be found here; it is a slightly below average horror experience as opposed to all-out bad. Indeed those less familiar with the genre are likely to enjoy The Pact. For the rest of us, it warrants one, thoughtless viewing, if only to observe McCarthy’s potentials as a filmmaker.