The Pact is a frightening and dark ghost film. It visits well used plot elements, but retains a scare factor not usually seen in big budget films. A frightening intensity permeates the film, causing a slow burn until the final act. Writer and director Nicholas McCarthy has created a tense, moody film that makes good use of a limited budget and creative ideas.
The simple setting, of a childhood home of a recently deceased parent, evoke memories of abuse for Nicole Barlow (Agnes Bruckner). In a phone call to her sister, Annie (Caity Lotz), Nicole insists that Annie come help with the funeral arrangements for their mother. Annie refuses, and later that night Nicole, while chatting with her daughter with her laptop, looses the connection. Seeing a door open that was shut before, she walks in. The next morning finds Annie arriving at the home, but Nicole missing. What happens next is a intriguing tale of a supernatural mystery.
Much of the film is carried by Lotz, with her performance being quite good throughout the film. The vast majority of the film is just Caity in the house alone, though there are also appearances by Casper Van Dien, as a police officer, and Haley Hudson as a blind medium. It’s Caity’s role that makes the film work and she deftly evokes the emotional battlefield of her life while trying to figure out why the house is haunted.
This is a subtle and slow moving film, emulating The Entity, Stir of Echoes, Amityville, Japanese horrors and their North American remakes. This is not a blood and splatter film that simply has a ghost doing nasty things to the star for an hour. In fact, there is little in the way of most modern, popular horror techniques in this film as it deftly underplays the physical horror element. The scares come, but there is a creepiness evolving from just being in a house alone. Odd sounds, things being moved or knocked over, doors opened and then closed, all in the matter of walking from one room to another. These events have purpose, and while appear random early on, begin to take shape as something is pointing Annie in a particular direction.
Taking place mostly in just the house, Nicholas McCarthy does an excellent job of maintaining viewer interest in this limited set. It is established early that the entity is both focused in the house, and demands Annie’s attention when she is there. That Annie is mistaken about the intentions of the ghost is no fault of her own, and through the help of the medium begins to piece together the puzzle. The house itself is a part of that puzzle, with a room being discovered that was previously unknown. What this room is, and how it fits into the puzzle is revealed in the final act which is quite well done.
Most of the elements presented prior to the final act are focused on providing a satisfying resolution. Having fought with the house and its ghost to get answers, there comes a surprising revelation late in the film that makes sense rather than just having a twist to have a twist, as is often the case. Some viewers may struggle with the pacing and subtly, as many North American horror film explain everything or are obnoxiously over the top.
While emulating and paying homage to other films, it retains its own unique vision. Not quite gothic in nature, it is still a supernatural thriller with good chills and frights.
Recommended for horror fans or anyone looking for a slow paced thriller that does not give its answers easily.