Horror films with hauntings and malicious ghosts at their center have been around for ages, but the last couple years have seen an odd trade-off happening onscreen. Movies like Insidious and the Paranormal Activity series have successfully increased the number of scares per minute while losing ground in other areas like narrative or character development. The PA films have some brilliantly executed scares, but none of the characters are memorable in the slightest. And Insidious is scary as hell and loaded with fun moments, but the story takes a giant dump on the audience in the final few minutes.
The Pact is a far lower profile release than either of those, and as such it takes a step back from their more bombastic approaches and instead finds a real balance between the scares, the characters and the story.
Nicole and Annie (Caity Lotz) are grown siblings whose overbearing and abusive mother has recently died. Annie reluctantly agrees to help her sister go through and clean up their mother’s house, but when she arrives Nicole is nowhere to be found. Their cousin arrives and she too soon disappears leaving Annie alone with a potentially malevolent presence, a mysterious walled-up room and a deadly secret in her family’s past. Oh, and Detective Casper Van Dien is breathing down her neck too…
Most of the folks simply disappear off-screen, but we do get a couple stabbings and a gunshot to the head.
The stabbings are bloody affairs, and the knife to the throat in particular is followed by copious amounts of the red stuff gushing from the wound. There’s also all kinds of visual creepiness in the third act.
Annie wears some nice, tight boy-shorts to bed and does much of her ghost busting in a cleavage-friendly tang-top.
Ghosts are usually after one of two things. They either want your help or they want to kill you. It’s a very important distinction.
Annie’s search for the truth reveals some long buried truths about her family and her home, and while some of them will feel very familiar to genre fans writer/director Nicholas McCarthy’s script manages to squeeze in a surprise or two. Even as the cliched parts play out on screen though the film maintains a steadily escalating pace that keeps viewers from ever getting bored or ahead of the story.
McCarthy’s direction is also worth noting as he creates most of the film’s tension and creepiness through camerawork as opposed to special effects. We follow Nicole and Annie through the house in continuous tracking shots that always leave us fearful of what’s around the next corner or through the next door. It’s simple but highly effective, and when the film’s two effects-oriented scenes do happen the result is heightened dramatically.
The film is worth watching for being a well-made horror film, but even more impressive is the lead character of Annie and in turn, the performance of Lotz. Even the smartest characters in horror make dumb mistakes usually to allow for the script’s scary setups, but Annie doesn’t make a single misstep. Not one. She hears noises in the house and immediately grabs a weapon. She’s attacked by an unseen force and immediately gets the fuck out of the house. She doesn’t scream when she sees a dead body, she brings the detective to the house with her before she investigates its nooks and crannies, and in one spectacular scene she goes on a proactive offense even as she’s bound and nearly immobile.
Lotz makes the physical action believable, but she also sells the drama of someone who’s answer to everything has been to simply leave the trouble behind. But faced with a missing sister and cousin, not to mention Nicole’s young daughter who’s now seemingly on her own, Lotz beautifully balances Annie’s desire to run with her desire to finally put an end to the pain. And in case I didn’t mention it before she looks damn fine in those boy-shorts and tang-top.
The Pact takes its time doling out the story and punctuates the narrative revelations with some genuinely creepy scenes. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it also never tries to. Fans of the genre should seek it out, but so should anyone who appreciates a strong female lead character. Annie is smart, capable and very easy on the eyes. She’s the ultimate horror film heroine and that alone is worth the price of admission.