Okay, let’s get the plot out of the way. After her mother passes away, Annie (Caity Lotz) returns to the family home where she was raised, and where her sister, a former drug addict, presently lives—before she vanishes. Among the strange disturbances that pop up in the household: a door opens on its own, a light turns on by itself, and there is something very ominous about that one closet at the end of the hall. After Annie gets assaulted by a ghost—she’s tossed and thrown around by something that isn’t visible (if you’ve seen Paranormal Activity, you’d get the idea)—she runs out of the house and tries to enlist a cop (Casper Van Dien) to help find her missing sister, but with little result. Ultimately, she has to face this mysterious being by herself and uncover a murder that took place long before, and so on and so on.
The movie’s really a kind of calling card for its director, Nicholas McCarthy, who also made a short film version of this same story. (I would like to see that, a tighter, condensed version of the same premise). As a director, McCarthy is impressive. He knows how to evoke mood through terse dialogue, and when a villain appears or walks down a hall, the moment fills one with dread just by how the figure is placed within the shot. The camera work and sense of composition had me intrigued, and I’m even more interested to see where Bridger Nelson (the cinematographer) goes with his career. As far as how the film looks, I have little complaint.
But we’ve seen this story before, and we’ve seen it done better, especially if you’ve seen your share of supernatural-horror-ghost movies. (And there are still more to come this year from the mainstream—The Apparition and The Possession.) The performance by Caity Lotz is okay, but I didn’t see a lot under the surface of Annie (though she doesn’t become too hysterical either, which is a plus, I suppose). Van Dien has little to do except look mildly startled before he is (without spoiling too much) written out of the film without much suspense. I wish I could be more excited about The Pact since the filmmaking is absorbing, tense, and allows time to establish an atmosphere. Though the characters are given some background at the start, their motivations are pretty pat, and the plot just leads to a generic skeleton-in-the-family-closet revelation.
Perhaps if more time had been given to establishing the villain, as opposed to within the last 20 minutes, I might be completely on the film’s side. As it is, The Pact shows more promise for where Nicholas McCarthy can go than where he is at the moment—and it pains me to say that since it’s a horror film technically not of the multiplex but an IFC pick-up from Sundance. Creepy, atmospheric, and oddly hollow, it’s also now a curiosity for VOD viewers.