Nicholas McCarthy’s debut feature “The Pact” is based on a short film (of the same name) he made last year. It tells the story of Annie, a young woman who returns to her childhood home to meet her sister Nicole in the wake of their mother’s death, only to find the house abandoned.
Despite evidence scattered around the household to suggest an abrupt disappearance from her sister, Annie’s own personal issues help her shrug the situation off, chalking her sister’s disappearance up to an inevitability. Annie (played by Caity Lotz) feels like everybody in her family leave her. Her Mother’s dead, her Father walked out at a young age, so it’s no wonder that sister Nicole would just up and leave.
As Annie settles down for the first night’s rest in her late Mother’s house, strange disturbances begin to startle her during the dead of night, from the refrigerator door being found wide open, to broken bottles of juice shattered over the kitchen floor. The tension built from this lone girl cautiously stalking around a creepy old house following strange noises is an old trick, but with it’s unsettling music score and the venerability Caity Lotz produces in front of the camera, it’s a great way to slowly build terror within the confines of a supernatural thriller.
Before long, Annie comes to terms with the fact that her Mother’s home is host to a poltergeist, and clues begin to surface connecting the haunting with Nicole’s disappearance. But ghosts can’t just kill people and hide the bodies now, can they?
Now I’ve got to be honest; with movies like this, it’s a struggle to write an unbiased review. The whole “who dunnit, what are the ghosts trying to tell me?” premise has been done to death. Since genre fanatics began to show signs of interest in the Japanese ghost stories nearing the start of the second millennium, America has been remaking and (most often poorly) imitating the craft of Asian Horror. So much so, that by the time Sarah Michelle Gellar had her turn in Takashi Shimizu’s U.S Version of earlier work “Ju-on: The Grudge”, the supernatural mystery became a staple for pop culture, spawning satirical parodies in franchises such as “Scary Movie”.
Ultimately, despite McCarthy’s best efforts to deliver a terrifying suspense thriller with a shocking twist, by the time the credits rolled it all felt short of the mark for me. Well into the second act, I was overcome with movie deja vu. I have seen this plot in a dozen other movies, I am immune to the fruits of cheap thrills via loud noises and flashing images. Yes, there are some well directed scare tactics, but the delivery amounts to little more than disappointment. I had a similar problem with 2008 Horror “The Strangers”, there’s so much emphasis on suspense during the buildup that the delivery gets lost with me.
One aspect I liked about “The Pact” was the change in direction during the movie’s third act. Combining supernatural elements with practical horror; it’s a favourable twist on an otherwise tiresome, cliché riddled tale. Another highlight of “The Pact” is definitely Caity Lotz. Her portrayal of haunted orphan Annie isn’t as your usual strong willed heroine, but a grieving young woman coming to grips with an unsettling childhood. Naturally pretty with an edge of realism about her; with her darkened eyes and modest attire, it’s a role which Caity submerges herself into completely, and she convincingly carries herself through an otherwise bland 90 minutes.
In fact, come to think about it, extra points go towards Haley Hudson for her turn as obligatory physic ‘Stevie’. This young woman does a fine job of steering her character away from the realm of 80’s throwback cliché ghost whisperer, and offers us an unhinged twenty something who by all appearances seems to be struggling with her gift than the average one dimensional horror movie medium.
As an aspiring screenwriter myself, my greatest respect goes to anybody who achieves their dream of getting their debut feature produced; I myself aim to get there one day, that’s why it disappoints me to say that “The Pact” didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I commend McCarthy for his abilities behind the camera, showing a real talent for editing and creating atmosphere with dim lighting and sharp cuts, but the script itself lacked the creativity of the film’s production.
I’ve no doubt we could see great things from Nicholas McCarthy in the future, but for his debut feature, “The Pact” doesn’t hold a punch.
Having premiered earlier this year at Sundance, “The Pact” will see a cinematic release in the U.K on June 8th, before getting a limited release Stateside on the 6th of July.