Caity Lotz in The Pact.

Horror movie photo cliché no 27: someone holding a torch.

Release Date: 8 June 2012
15 | 88 minutes
Distributor: Entertainment One
Director: Nicolas McCarthy
Cast: Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, Agnes Bruckner

Whatever else ghost-story-cum-something-else The Pact might be, it is at least frightening, building tension deftly for its first half. The jumps and jolts may be nothing you haven’t seen before, but first-time feature director/writer Nicholas McCarthy (who based the film on a short of the same name which screened at Sundance in 2011), clearly has an aptitude for timing.

A haunted house movie with a cross-genre twist, The Pact‘s creepy old castle is instead a dingy, kitsch suburban bungalow owned by the recently-deceased mother of ex-addict Annie (Caity Lotz), who reluctantly returns to make funeral arrangements after her altogether more together sister apparently vanishes.

Utilising horror standards – a black silhouette seen only by the audience, a ghostly apparition almost overlooked, a tingling slo-mo dream sequence – The Pact’s chills are formulaic but effective, while freshness is added via the smart use of technology. Annie’s phone keeps pinging onto a specific location on Google Maps, but when she takes a look on Street View to see what’s there…

Starship Troopers‘ Casper Van Dien provides support as the cop helping Annie uncover the mystery, while Haley Hudson, as the blind psychic Annie implausibly knew from school, adds an element of the uncanny. Performances are acceptable and visual flair evident, and there are hints and glimpses of themes that are never fully explained, but imply there’s more depth and artistry to The Pact than is entirely within reach.

The trouble is, after such a careful build, the final reveal takes such a sharp re-route that it’s hard to stomach. Chucked-in subplots are skirted over and, as is so often the case, the protagonists are as much victims of their own stupidity and unwillingness to open their eyes as the evil agents at work. The nail in the coffin is the final coda: a lingering image which makes no sense at all.

Still, if ultimately The Pact doesn’t hold up it at least makes some brave choices along the way – some of which pay off. Like last year’s Insidious, it’s at times scream-out-loud scary, with a second half that can’t maintain the momentum. Still, if you know what you’re getting this could still make a great Friday night horror – decent scares, then a meaty pub conversation afterwards about exactly why it doesn’t quite work…

Rosie Fletcher

Read more of our film reviews.

Tags: ,