Another low-budget indie horror flick that relies on talented actors, an intriguing script and subtlety? If this is a trend, it’s a good one and I want it to go on as long as possible.
Here’s the semi-official synopsis:
As a woman struggles to come to grips with her past in the wake of her mother’s death, an unsettling presence emerges in her childhood home.
This simplification of the film’s events does it a disservice as the depth of the conflict comes from the disappearance of Anna’s (Caity Lotz) sister Liz, played by Kathleen Rose Perkins. Liz is the responsible one in charge of sorting out the estate of their late mother; an abusive woman who drove the siblings to escape their childhood home. Liz disappears and Anna must try to find her. As she searches, she sees disturbing visions of ghosts and uncovers strange and terrible secrets.
Casper Van Dien plays a very down-to-earth grizzled detective who is drawn into the case and the conflict about what has really happened to Liz. Haley Hudson has some cutely off-putting scenes as Stevie, the spirit medium who was the high-school freakshow now grown up to be . . . not much different.
While not in the same caliber as Absentia, The Pact has some clever twists and worthy scares. It is a film that relies on Lotz’s performance and she does a good job of creating a troubled yet determined character; without the gratuitous childhood flashbacks that a higher budgeted but less intelligent film would use to generate the character conflicts of an abuse survivor. Maybe it’s this characterization that makes the film important to us as it is an important subject that is often handled poorly and it’s good to see some dignity and respect paid to these issues in a genre film.
Jenny adds: One thing I appreciated about The Pact was its refusal to make the audience wait for a drawn out introduction before delivering some truly frightening moments and creepy atmosphere. As the sisters independently revisit their childhood home, we jump right in to some well-played scares. The tension continues to build on that foundation, without killing the mood, as the characters are fleshed out and the mystery unfolds. This is pleasantly at odds with the Hollywood convention of cheap jolts in the opening followed by at least 30 minutes of exposition and the development of dull and unlikeable twenty-somethings.
Going back to a previous point, yes, this film is genuinely scary. Although the set is your typical outdated apartment on the surface, the environment is no less creepy than your classic cobwebbed mansion. Dizzying wallpaper, imposing decor, a circuit of hallways that suggest a presence waiting around every corner, and… well… we don’t want to give everything away. Let’s just say that the setting, a character of its own in any quality haunting, contributes nicely to an unsettling mood and helps gives the scares their edge. With the exception of one or two debatable moments, none of these shocks are cheap or–even worse–false, and we’re doubly impressed by their liberal use of practical effects when so many productions would have sullied the same scenes with unfortunate CGI. I’m always looking for the next film that can get under my skin and this mission is rarely successful. I’m happy to admit there were a few scenes in The Pact that really got me.
The film’s not perfect. Few are. A scare or two opt for the tired herky-jerky movement so prominent in lesser films and fall flat. Not a big deal compared to the sins of big Hollywood startle-fests. These flaws stand out only because the rest of the film’s apparitions are handled so very well. In addition, looking back once the credits are rolling, some very creepy moments in the film make little to no logical sense . I wouldn’t necessarily want to see those scenes removed, but they’re misleading; practically undone by the reveals of the final act. The argument CAN be made that this material is a clue to a greater mystery, but I see scares for the sake of scares. Forgivable.
With all of this said, yes, I definitely recommend The Pact to fans of supernatural horror; especially those of you who prefer scary flicks heavy on atmosphere and light on the gore (though there is a tiny bit). However, the plot does take some unexpected turns that have been a turnoff to some. I’d urge you to just go in with an open mind, turn off the lights, and enjoy this odd little ghost story.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? Most of the major players here are women. It passes with flying colors.