A new horror film that I was anxiously waiting for was Nicholas McCarthy’s “The Pact”. Back at Sundance in 2011, McCarthy presented a short film with the same name, and it was so well received that he was able to find financing to expand the story and re-do it as a feature film. At the time of this writing, I have still been unable to see the short film but I have watched the small trailer they made for it. It looked to be very atmospheric and well shot but it showed little of the actual story. So why was I anticipating “The Pact” so much then? I am almost embarrassed to say that it was because of the film’s poster. During the time they were shooting the feature, a poster was released to promote the film (it is the poster above). It was such a creepy, almost fairytale like image, that immediately caught my eye and the bold use of the black and yellow colouring made it stand out from the pack. From this single image I was hooked and knew that I would have to see this film, which I am now happy to report that I have indeed done just that.
The film is about a twenty-something girl named Annie who returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother to help her sister, Nicole, organize the packing up of her mother’s belongings. However when she gets to the house, she finds that her sister is gone and has apparently been missing for a few days. Knowing her sister to be an ex-drug addict, Annie is less worried than she should be, but when she finds Nicole’s phone lying in a closet, she starts to feel that something may not be right here.
It is obvious from the outset that Annie’s (and most probably Nicole’s too) childhood was not a happy one and that she suffered some kind of abuse while living in this house. Her relationship with her mother was also not a good one either. Being back at this place after all this time away stirs up memories in Annie that she thought were long forgotten, memories that don’t appear to be too pleasant. From the very first night she moves back into the house, strange things start to occur with fridge doors opening by themselves, objects constantly disappearing or being moved, and she is constantly hearing strange noises within the walls. Not only that, but Annie is sure that she can fell a ghostly presence around her.
At her mother’s funeral, Annie runs into an old school friend who also happens to be looking after Nicole’s young daughter. Annie offers the two of them a room at her mother’s place so they can stay the night. This night is even stranger than the one previous as this time Annie is physically dragged by an unseen force and after her friend disappears too Annie flees with her niece and swears never to return to the house ever again. The next morning Annie goes to the police to explain about the night’s events and to report both Nicole and her friend missing. There she meets an officer named Creek who appears to be the only one taking her story seriously and he agrees to investigate to find out just what exactly is going on in that house. Is it haunted by a ghost and if so, just who is the ghost? Does something from Annie’s past play a key to all of this? What does this all have to do with a serial killer known only as “Judas”? What is the pact of the title?
This is another one of those films that the less you know going into it the better it is going to be. However I must say that “The Pact” was a bit of a letdown for me. It just wasn’t able to hold the creepy atmosphere throughout the film that was so strong in the film’s trailer. Do not get me wrong, there are indeed creepy moments (the physical appearances of the ghost are very well done), it is just that the atmosphere was never sustained. The film is quite derivative of films past, and it does have a been there done that sort of vibe to it. I have no problem with films retreading the same ground, as long as they bring something new or fresh to it, and for me “The Pact” just didn’t do enough of that. Another problem I had with the film was the use of characters as plot devices. The worst example is about half way through the film when we are introduced to Stevie, who amazingly is a blind psychic girl, and is only introduced to further the plot. The filmmakers needed a way for Annie to communicate with the dead, and they came up with a girl that she used to go to school with that just happened to have this ability. It is during this moment also that the most embarrassing line in the script occurs when Annie asks Stevie “Can you really do that thing everyone says you can do?”. As soon as Stevie has moved the plot forward, her character totally disappears from the movie again. No doubt due to the fact that this story originated as a short film, but I felt that nothing much really happens in the film. It felt like there was a lot of padding and I don’t think the story was fleshed out enough to sustain a feature length running time. Oh and any time a Ouija board comes out in a horror film, you are going to lose me.
What I did like about “The Pact” was the strong visual style (surprised?). I admit that I am a sucker for steadicam shots gliding through houses and this film has plenty but I also felt that the whole production design of the house was beautiful too. The wallpaper chosen for the interiors was just spot on. McCarthy also comes up with a number of visual flourishes throughout the film that keeps it interesting to watch including an amazing “bullet time” sequence that occurs in one of Annie’s dreams. It is a stunning moment (probably my highlight of the film) and one of the more creepier ones too.
Performances are a bit hit or miss with Caity Lotz giving a great and intense performance as Annie, while Casper Van Dien struggles with his role of the cop. He just does not give any weight to the role and you can actually see him “acting”. To be fair, Van Dien has never been much of an actor before and while he just passes here, it is safe to say that he will not be accepting any awards for his role.
“The Pact” is a very ambiguous film (deliberately so) as to what is really going on, which I do not think works to this film’s favour at least on the initial viewing. However once the audience is made aware of the big reveal of the film, I think “The Pact” would benefit from a second viewing and would work in a completely different capacity and could possibly be a more positive experience. In regards to the actual pact of the title, this is one of the more ambiguous things in the film as it is never once explained what it is, although clues are littered throughout the film that the audience should be able to piece together to work out just what it may be.
While I did find “The Pact” to ultimately be a disappointment, it is obvious that director Nicholas McCarthy has a load of talent and I look forward to future films from him. It must be said that while I didn’t find “The Pact” to be a particularly creepy and scary experience, my wife surely did. For the majority of the film she watched through closed eyes and was terrified throughout the whole thing and when the big reveal occurred, I thought she was going to jump through the roof. My wife is not a fan of horror movies at all but since watching “The Pact” she has not stopped talking about it to friends and dissecting each little scene to work out every bit of meaning to it all. All this talking about it continues to creep her out, so the film definitely does work, it just didn’t work on me.