The Pact

The Pact (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Nichole (Agnes Bruckner) telephones her sister, Annie (Caity Lotz), to convince her to come down to San Pedro, California for their mother’s funeral. Although the two are not especially fond of the woman who raised them due to an abusive household, both feel it is their obligation to give the deceased a proper farewell.

When Annie arrives at the house, however, Nichole is nowhere to be found. Since Nichole has a history with hard drugs, Annie figures her sister has relapsed and ran away. While Annie waits for Nichole to return, a ghostly presence in the house becomes increasingly noticeable.

“The Pact,” written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy, is an effective horror-thriller because the mystery behind the supernatural goings-on is, surprisingly, rooted enough in reality to be believable and interesting. Most of the techniques employed that lead up to the big scares are inspired by John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” at one point our protagonist ending up trapped in a closet with nothing but a hanger as a weapon.

Like its inspiration, the writer-director takes advantage of the structure of the house, especially its enclosed spaces, each room potentially masking a threat. Every time someone walks around the house, night or day, pace brisk or slow, the film feels joyously alive. It relies on simplicity such strange noises, objects being moved out of place, and flickering lights to get its audience in the mood to get startled. I felt my eyes so engaged in examining different parts of each room (and furnitures that can serve as hiding spots) in an attempt to notice something alarming before the inevitable music cues—which, had they been utilized less often, would have created a superior film.

Lotz is easy to root for as Annie because there is a lovable toughness in the way she speaks and moves her body. When the issue of childhood abuse is brought up, it makes sense why the protagonist is the way she is: ready to take on the defensive stance and not letting people in quite so easily.

The film is not without small ironies. Bill (Casper Van Dien), a cop who shows a genuine interest in Nichole’s disappearance, does considerably less detective work than Annie. At times I questioned why he was even introduced to the story. I wondered if it was intentional, McCarthy taking an opportunity to comment indirectly on the stereotypical roles of men and women in the genre. This, however, does not take away thrills from the picture.

Less enjoyable are the physical theatrics like when a person is flung across the room by an invisible force. Because it happens too early on, the build-up not quite ripe for picking, I was not sure whether to buy it or laugh. It is too showy, a desperate scare tactic, which does not at all match the overall downplayed rhythm of the material. Had it occurred later, maybe it would have felt right. When the ridiculous acrobatics are minimized and the small discoveries are allowed to trickle down our goosebumps like cold sweat, “The Pact” is very good entertainment.

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