The Pact

Even with its limited budget, The Pact is miles ahead of similarly themed big budget horror films.

The title and trailer of this movie can mislead you into underestimating what this movie can do. I was one such victim. As a debut film for director Nicholas McCarthy, The Pact packs a powerful one-two punch that can send you reeling into a sleepless night.

Made on a shoe-string budget and lacking the special effects prowess of major studios, The Pact is a horror film that goes on to prove why and how independent films can be highly effective by using just raw storytelling power. The opening scene sets the tone and will leave you wide-eyed all through the narration. Written by McCarthy, the story begins as Nichole (Agnes Bruckner) is making final preparations for her mother’s funeral. Her biker-chick sister Annie (Caity Lotz) refuses to be a part of it. This suggests that the girls have had a troubled past and that their mother may have been a contributing factor. The film’s first frightening scene occurs when Nicole speaks to her daughter via a video-chat. This is also the last time we see Nicole. Soon after Nicole’s disappearance, Annie arrives at their childhood home, a small house adorned with hideous wallpaper and crucifixes all over the house. With the help of a local cop (Casper van Dien) Annie proceeds to look for her sister, but gets entangled in a deep and darkening mystery. What she finds is unbelievably shocking and life threatening to whoever sets foot in that house.

By the time we get to the final act, horror movie fans could experience slight familiarities between this film and other big budget horror films of the past; but not before some perfectly made scenes of pure fright. For a debut film, various aspects of the narration are spot on. To begin with, McCarthy’s story unfolds in a baroque manner, where each proceeding scene peels away to a new and revealing picture within. There are also subtle clues to the mystery afoot. These include holes in the wall that once served as peepholes between rooms, digital images that literally point out to the viewer and other improvised techniques that are equally terrifying. Cinematography plays a major part of this narrative and is actually used as a tool to amplify moments of dread and suspense. There are scenes where the camera follows Annie through the hallways of the house. This can be unsettling for the viewer as the camera forces you to see things from a point-of-view perspective. And then, the camera will show you exactly what you don’t want to see; precise moments meant to scare the viewer rather than the on-screen character.

Even with its limited budget, The Pact is miles ahead of similarly themed big budget horror films. It is well written, well made and well-acted. Lotz fits the part and single-handedly anchors the script as a woman with a tough and street-smart exterior. It is also refreshing to see Van Dien in a serious supporting role, as opposed to leading roles as a hero in ludicrous made-for-TV movies. And while the film doesn’t break new ground in the horror genre, it does a hell of a good job as a horror film with a neatly packed mystery within. So much so, I would recommend watching this movie again, where your first viewing would be to be scared, and a second time to see if you can spot clues to the mystery. Even then, there is a high possibility that this film will leave you mulling over some ‘what if’ questions.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.