It’s time for the 31 Days of Horror: 2014 Edition. For those of you who weren’t around for last year’s journey, the plan is to watch at least 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and review them all. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy my journey down the rabbit hole.
Let’s just get this out of the way, right up top: The Pact is a terrible title. It’s generic, makes no sense in the context of the film, and detracts from an otherwise competent movie.
Does describing the film as “competent” not raise your expectations? Let’s try some other terms: adequate, decent, good enough, not bad, not a complete waste of time, accomplishes the bare minimum, reaches its modest goals. You get the idea.
The first five minutes of the film contains easily its best sequence. Nichole (an under-utilized Agnes Bruckner) argues with her sister Annie (Caity Lotz) on the phone. Nichole wants Annie to come home for the funeral of their mother. Annie wants nothing to do with the funeral or her childhood home because of the abuse she and Nichole suffered as children at the hands of their mother. Later, Nichole is alone in the house, trying to talk to her four-year-old daughter Eva (Dakota Bright) via Skype. Walking around the house, trying to get a better signal from the neighbor’s Wi-Fi, Nichole stops in front of an open closet door when Eva asks the chilling question, “Who’s that behind you?”
After this promising opening, The Pact mostly wastes its potential on a run-of-the-mill ghost story/murder mystery.
That’s not to say that The Pact is a bad movie. Annie makes an appealing protagonist—at first. As the film goes along, writer/director Nicholas McCarthy sands down the toughness and vulnerability of Lotz’s performance, until she’s just a generic final girl in the third act. The same goes for the supporting characters. McCarthy offers up seemingly clichéd types (the skeptical cop, the socially maladjusted psychic) who initially avoid their expected stereotypes. But by the time the third act rolls around, the idiosyncratic traits brought to those characters have been stripped away to easily place them into the categories of victims or red herrings.
More frustrating than the way McCarthy eventually betrays his characters is the way he eventually settles on the moldiest of explanations for what’s happening. For a film that starts out with such a promising opening sequence, it’s a pretty big letdown to realize it has turned into the type of hacky flick that has Annie consulting an Ouija Board in the third act.
Despite my disappointment with where the film and characters eventually go, The Pact remains watchable. Its downward arc is slow, so there are effective moments scattered throughout the first two acts. McCarthy is skilled at building and releasing suspense and he hits some unexpected moments of emotional resonance for Annie. He even coaxes an amusing and charming performance out of the normally wooden Casper Van Dien as the cop investigating Nichole’s disappearance.
But scattered moments and a good performance here and there does not make a complete movie. The Pact could have been superior indie horror, instead it settles for playing it safe. It’s frustratingly middle-of-the-road entertainment that is forgotten almost as soon as it is watched.
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