Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 89 minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2012
Directed by: Nicholas McCarthy
Stars: 3 out of 5
There are so many horror and thriller movies raiding movie theaters that sometimes its hard to keep them all sorted. Several look almost exactly alike and even follow similar plots and storylines. In addition, there are stock characters and standard horror movie tropes that get used ad nauseum. How is a first-time movie director like Nicholas McCarthy supposed to separate his film from the rest of the pack? The answer is to make it smart, well paced, and well made despite the low budget. On all of these aspects, McCarthy succeeds wildly beyond the usual scope of an indie film.
The setting of “The Pact” has to be kept small because of the limited budget the film had during production. This could mean cheap lighting or shoddy editing, but neither of those are evident here. Instead, the audience is treated to the story of Annie (Caity Loitz), a young woman so scarred by her family’s crazy past that she doesn’t want to attend her abusive, sociopathic mother’s funeral. She initially refuses to go back to her childhood home, where many of the ghosts of her past reside.
Unfortunately for Annie, she is soon forced to return by an impossible situation. Her sister Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) has disappeared, leaving behind her young daughter without adult supervision. As a defense mechanism, Annie morphed from a scared, abused little girl into a tough biker chick. Despite the tough exterior, she loves her sister and niece, so she doesn’t hesitate to try and find out what happened. The police send a hard-boiled detective, Bill (Casper Van Dien), to interview Annie and head up the investigation.
The chills begin in earnest when Annie begins staying at her childhood home. The house is dark and has small rooms, making for some very tight and claustrophobic scenes that really help ramp up the suspense. There are shadows everywhere, and while some are just shadows, others turn out to be more than that.
Annie suspects that there is an unseen presence in the house, though Bill doesn’t. He favors a traditional disappearance investigation and is a true skeptic regarding Annie’s theory. It isn’t until Annie’s cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins) goes missing that he begins to doubt his anti-ghost stance. This new disappearance serves to ratchet up the mystery and send Annie into desperation mode before her or her niece become the next victim.
After she starts being thrown around the house by an unseen entity, Annie enlists the help of Stevie (Haley Hudson), a clairvoyant who looks like a stiff breeze might blow her over. She is gaunt and obviously strung out on drugs. Despite Stevie’s off-putting appearance, Annie embraces her as an ally to help her communicate with the ghost. Their Ouija board scene could have been a clichéd mess, but instead it is a true cold-blooded thrill.
Then, the film shifts from a ghost tale to a serial killer movie. This mutation may seem sudden, but it works because of McCarthy’s screenplay. When multiple dead bodies are found in the basement, Annie realizes that the ghost throwing her around the house may have been trying to keep her out of harm’s way. It is implied that the ghost could be that of her freshly dead mother, trying to atone for her abuse by saving Annie and her sister.
The tension is what makes the film so thrilling. There are some genuinely scary moments that even the most jaded horror film fan will likely jump at. There is one scene in particular when Nicole is using Skype to talk to her daughter that is so tense and scary that some may never want to use the messaging service again. Little elements like these combine to create big scares that may just send shivers down your spine. This is rare in modern-day horror movies, where thrills and tension have often been substituted with blood and gore.
“The Pact” succeeds despite not having a single big movie star in the cast. Casper Van Dien is the only actor whose name might ring a bell in the minds of moviegoers because of the cult status of the 1997 film “Starship Troopers.” To boot, Van Dien is almost unrecognizable in the role because his boyish good looks are being hidden by a sloppy mop of hair and a beard flecked with aging gray hair. This shows that a film doesn’t have to have a bona-fide star in order to be good; it just has to have a good script and a good director who can make the most out of his young and relatively inexperienced cast. The credit goes to writer and director McCarthy on both counts. His vision is what takes “The Pact” from what could have been a middling horror flick to a truly scary and thrilling film.