PLOT: Upon her mother’s death, Annie (Caity Lotz) returns to the home where she grew up. But besides unpleasant memories of her childhood, a dark presence is also lurking in the house, setting Annie on a journey of discovery in which she may not return.
REVIEW: With the wildly successful PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, haunted house flicks are steaming hot right now, and even looking back at classics like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and POLTERGEIST, it's apparent that they've been popular in Hollywood for decades. Sometimes they’re executed with some serious scares, and sometimes… not. And I’m happy to report that writer/director Nicholas McCarthy’s THE PACT falls into the category of haunted house flicks that delivers the scares and then some.
Much like THE INNKEEPERS, one of the things THE PACT has going for it is its slow pace. There’s no rush to get where it’s going, and it’s the “slow burn” of it all that adds to the level of jumps, scares, and overall creepiness that ensues within the walls of the little house in the sleepy (and often slummy) suburb of San Pedro, California. Forget about black cats jumping into the frame with the rush of blaring orchestrated music to have you jump out of your seat… sorry folks, no “boo scares” here, but rather the scares that come from tension that builds so high that, just when you think you can’t take it anymore, it slaps you in the face and has you screaming for more.
The slow burning tension is one of the film’s biggest attributes; the other is the setting. We’ve seen haunted houses in a gothic setting, or in houses that are more like mansions—basically, most Hollywoodized haunted houses are larger than life and nearly impossible for the average person to relate to. However, the house in THE PACT is just your average suburban 2 bedroom, probably built in the late ‘60s, with tacky wallpaper, wood paneling, and a kitchen that’s in serious need of updating. Not only is it a “classic” grandparent house, but it’s one that just about everyone can relate to in on way, shape, or form. Plus, because the size is so small and manageable, you get the lay of the land pretty quickly, so you know exactly where each room is in relation to the kitchen, the living room, the hallway, etc… And believe it or not, it’s that level of understanding of the house that adds to the whole spook level when the shit starts going down.
From a filmmaking perspective, THE PACT does a solid job of framing its scenes, using lighting and shadows to create its mood, and uses a great musical score to help tell its story. I can’t wait to see what else Nichols has up its sleeve. The entire cast also pull-off some pretty solid performances, though a few of them are uneven and spotty at best. Basically, no one will be nominated for their acting here, but most were believable enough, especially for the size of the production. A special shout out goes to Casper Van Dien, as he delivers probably the best performance of his career as the police detective on the case. Seriously, I don’t know if it’s his age, his beard, or if it was just the right size roll for him, but he stepped up his A-game here, and almost made you forget about STARSHIP TROOPERS. Almost.
One of the cool things THE PACT manages to pull off is its use of technology. Skype, laptops, cell phones, Google, Google Maps, and just simply surfing the web, technology is an intricate part of the story, playing a bigger roll than you might expect in a little flick like this. In a few years, this may end up dating the flick, but considering how intertwined our lives are with technology each and every day, it also makes a ton of sense for it to play just a big part, and yes... there's some seriously spooky stuff going on (with Skype and Google Maps in particular) that may just freak your freak.
As far as haunted house flicks go, THE PACT delivers the goods and then some. While it’s not a perfect movie (there are flaws here and there), it handles each of the haunted scenes very well, and kept me glued to the edge of my seat throughout. There’s also a hefty punch to the face twist ending that threw me for a loop, and one that people will be talking about. Seriously, I didn’t see where it was going and once you get there… wow. So while it’s a slow burn, there’s still plenty of meat to chew on throughout—it’s not slow enough to forget that you’re watching a scary movie, nor will you ever get bored. In the end, THE PACT is a memorable and above average haunted house movie, and for that I give it mad props.