When their mother dies, 20-something sisters Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) and Annie (Caity Lotz) are left to handle her affairs. Annie, still resentful of their oppressive upbringing, is reluctant to have anything to do with planning the funeral, but Nicole convinces her sister to drive to their childhood home, where Nicole has been staying since the death. When Annie arrives, however, Nicole is nowhere to be found. Curiously, her computer and cell phone are still there, but since she has had a history of erratic, drug-fueled behavior, Annie thinks little of it.
But the longer Annie stays in her old house, the more the eerie occurrences being to mount -- from strange noises to objects moving to the discovery of a mysterious key and a photo showing her mother and a mystery woman -- culminating in an assault by an unseen force and the disappearance of her cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins), who'd just arrived at the house with Nicole's young daughter Eva (Dakota Bright).
Annie goes to the cops for help, but her story is hard for detective Bill Creek (Casper Van Dien) to believe, so she's left to fend for herself in a house that holds dark secrets that she must uncover in order to save what's left of her family.
The End Result
The Pact is one of those breaths of fresh air in a genre dominated by excess: a quiet, smart film that relies on character, plot and sound (or lack thereof) to generate palpable chills from start to finish. It's a haunted house movie on multiple levels, with Annie haunted both literally and figuratively by the sins of the past. The story presents a well-crafted, fascinating mystery rife with twists and nail-biting moments that choose silence over clichéd musical cues to build old-fashioned suspense. It may not have as many jump-out-of-your-seat moments as, say, Insidious, but the atmosphere is one of a relentless sense of dread, and the payoff is powerful -- granted, it may require multiple viewings to fully absorb the subtleties of the story.
First-time director Nicholas McCarthy delivers the product with a steady, refreshingly restrained hand and a muted, indie film vibe that may play too matter-of-fact for some horror fans' tastes. While The Pact was shot on a low budget and doesn't rely heavily on special effects, the effects that are present are impressive and, like the film as a whole, eschew heavy-handed theatrics. Little-known Lotz, who co-starred in MTV's Death Valley, heads an able cast whose biggest names -- Van Dien and Bruckner -- play small roles, allowing her to shine with a mix of ferocity and vulnerability that's key for horror heroism.
- Acting: B- (Bruckner and Van Dien seem underutilized, but Lotz has great presence and believability.)
- Direction: B+ (Refreshingly restrained, heightening the realism of the film.)
- Script: B (Overcomes a hole or two and a tacked-on ending with an engrossing, twisty mystery tied in with a creepy ghost story.)
- Gore/Effects: B- (Modest gore, but strong real-world effects.)
- Overall: B (Perhaps the scariest ghost movie of the year.)
The Pact is directed by Nicholas McCarthy and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: July 6, 2012 (on demand May 25).