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“The Pact”, from debut writer director Nicholas McCarthy, has proved one of the horror sleeper hits of the year so far, earning an international big screen release and playing to positive notice at Sundance 2012. Expanded from an earlier 11-minute short by McCarthy, the low budget chiller has been going down well with both audiences and critics, despite having a premise which sounds suspiciously similar to “Paranormal Activity” and countless other recent genre yawns.
Thankfully, McCarthy eschews the sadly still popular found footage route, and the film is an effective mix of modern detective mystery and old school supernatural hijinks, with Caity Lotz (“Mad Men”) as a young woman called Annie struggling to cope with her mother’s death while investigating the house where she and her now missing sister grew up. After being thrown around by an unseen and decidedly hostile force, Annie finds a hidden room with creepy spyholes, and quite reasonably starts to suspect that something sinister has happened to her sister. Helped by sympathetic cop Casper Van Dien (“Starship Troopers”) and oddball medium Haley Hudson (“Weeds”), Annie slowly draws closer to the horrifying truth about her childhood and a series of dark family secrets.
“The Pact” (a daft and fairly meaningless title) is the kind of film which really sneaks up on the viewer, and though far from being perfect, is one of the best and most surprisingly enjoyable horrors of the last year. This is partly due to McCarthy’s down to earth approach, which neatly mixes ghostly hauntings, police procedural, domestic drama and serial killers without fuss or ceremony, combining new technology such as Skype and online searches in a way that feels far more natural than it might in other hands. A fair amount of thought certainly went into the script, and though under close scrutiny the film raises far more questions than it answers, it wins several points for a well worked series of twists and revelations that keep the viewer gripped throughout. While ultimately none of this really amounts to anything new or original, the film does offer a few surprises, and shows a pleasing ambition in at least trying to offer something a bit different.
Although the film’s production values were low, McCarthy does a great job in the director’s chair, and again there’s a definite sense that more work and craftsmanship went into the production than other similarly themed recent efforts. Clocking in at just under an hour and a half, the film is fast moving and eventful, and what it lacks in big set pieces or fancy special effects it more than makes up for with a creepy and perverse atmosphere. The performances from the cast are all solid, and the resulting emotional viewer investment in the well written characters means that the film is frequently tense and occasionally frightening.
Whilst none of this is quite enough to earn “The Pact” true mass approval away from horror fans, it’s a fun and accomplished little creeper that’s very much worth catching, especially for supernatural aficionados understandably tired of the found footage fad. Nicholas McCarthy successfully couples modern and traditional genre motifs to rewardingly ghoulish effect, and the film is several notches above “Paranormal Activity” or any of its kin.
UK viewers can make up their own minds, with the film now available on region 2 DVD and Blu Ray through Entertainment One.
Nicholas McCarthy (director) / Nicholas McCarthy (screenplay)
CAST: Caity Lotz … Annie
Casper Van Dien … Bill Creek
Agnes Bruckner … Nichole
Mark Steger … Charles
Haley Hudson … Stevie
Kathleen Rose Perkins … Liz
Sam Ball … Giles