November 28, 2014
A meeting of ghosts, secrets and murders
For the Herald
The Pact is not really a stunning horror movie. Then again, stunning horror movies are hard to come by nowadays as new releases range from mediocre to plain awful. However, every now and then, there are some who proudly stand out from the crowd. I mean accomplished, remarkably executed genre pieces with only a few mishaps here and there. Movies like The Pact. A small-scale, low-budget supernatural horror thriller that manages to be both stylish and scary, creepy and realistic. And it even has some surprises that do pay off.
The storyline is quite simple: Annie, a young, good looking woman, gets her sister to come for their mother’s funeral at their childhood home — even though the two sisters had a tumultuous bond with their abusive mother and hadn’t seen her for years. But her sister has disappeared, and her cousin, who comes to help her cope with the entire affair, also disappears. Soon enough, strange occurrences in a supernatural vein begin to take place in the house. Whether it’s a haunted house remains to be seen. In the meantime, things get worse and worse.
The Pact is the debut film of US director Nicholas McCarthy, an admirer of horror films who has learned more than the basics to make a scary and believable movie. He resorts to effective ways to build suspense and tension, as well as a handful of boo moments. Most important, the movie has a linear and traditional story that plunges into the unknown in an effortless fashion, mostly because it’s hardly ever contrived and the characters behave as people would do in real life. So they don’t go after the ghosts and thus endanger their lives, they don’t make stupid comments, and they never explain the meaning of the story to one another — or to viewers. The Pact is a movie that doesn’t underestimate its audience.
There’s also the fine acting, with Caity Lotz as Annie at the top of the list. Not only does she look really affected by the weird phenomenon, but she also conveys the most profound inner turmoil. You care for her as you would for any ordinary person in an extraordinary situation.
So much of the viewer’s involvement has to do with her persuasive performance as well as with her character’s traits. The rest of the cast does a more than decent job, especially Haley Hudson as Stevie, the dying-looking medium.
The cinematography, mostly the camerawork, is the key element to suggest, and sometimes show, the presence of something evil lurking around the corner ready to come out any minute. And it also recreates an unstable, somewhat deranged ambience. The oppressive sound design deserves true credit too. What doesn’t work very well is the ending. Or, better said, the disclosure of the enigma. As is the case with many horror movies, this is the part where all suspense and eeriness are displaced by a little credible, kind of artificial third act. A conclusion that seems forced, at best. That’s why it feels it belongs to a different movie. But it’s not that bad either. Other than that, The Pact is to be celebrated for its many achievements.
Che Pact (USA, 2012). Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy. With Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, Agnes Bruckner, Haley Hudson, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Mark Steger, Dakota Bright, and Sam Ball. Cinematography: Bridger Nielson. Sound design: Chris Terhune. Editing: Adriaan van Zyl. Music: Ronen Landa. Produced by Ross M. Dinerstein, Jamie Carmichael, Jaime Burke, and Sam Zuckerman. Running time: 89 minutes.