‘The Pact’ is a creepily effective horror film

Courtesy of IFC Films

Watching horror movies in 2012 can be a difficult experience. The genre requires so much of its filmmakers that few projects are able to rise above mediocrity and leave a lasting impression. In some ways, it feels like everything has been done before and then sequelized a million times over.

The flip side of this harsh reality is that when a movie does surprise audience members, it normally proves to be quite memorable. Such is the case with The Pact, starring Caity Lotz and Casper Van Dien. Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy, the horror film is simple, effective and scary. There’s no excessive gore. The thrills are all well-earned. There’s not a single comedic element, but the drama keeps the viewer’s interest going for 90 minutes.

The movie works so well because of Lotz’s performance. She anchors the film as Annie, a strange woman with a strange past. After hearing of her mother’s death, she heads back to the old homestead, a dilapidated house stuck in the middle of America. It’s obvious from Annie’s hesitant steps back into the house that something dark happened within the supposedly protected confines of the home.

When arriving back in town, Annie had expected to find her sister. But with no traces of any family member left in the house, the question marks begin to surface. What exactly happened to Annie’s mother and sister? Why does it feel like someone is still in the house?

Annie employs the help of the local police detective Bill Creek (Van Dien), but it doesn’t take long for her to realize that the police and anyone else in town probably won’t answer her questions. She’s going to need to explore the situation by herself, and what she finds is truly horrifying.

The Pact will likely frustrate viewers, much more than satisfy them. But this reluctance to be a cookie-cutter horror film is the movie’s strongest suit. The plot and characters swirl around in a hazy mixture of dread and death. It’s not entirely clear what is happening, who is responsible for what and how the ending will come about. Newcomers to the genre will desire more finality. Longtime horror fans will be more than happy with the results. The Pact is that rare film that leaves many blanks for the audience to fill in, allowing our imaginations to run rampant.

Casper Van Dien and Caity Lotz in ‘The Pact’ — Photo courtesy of Bridger Nielson / IFC Films

McCarthy’s script is lean and to the point. Based on an earlier short film, The Pact feels just about right in its length and atmosphere. As a director, McCarthy is able to create a claustrophobic and eerie set. Creative camera angles help to deepen the scares and keep the audience on its toes.

It’s tough to see the movie working as well as it does without the central performance by Lotz. Even if the scares and story line are uninteresting to an audience member, there’s no denying that her portrayal of a woman in dire circumstances is memorable and dedicated.

Click here for our interview with Casper Van Dien.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Pact

  • 2012

  • Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy

  • Starring Caity Lotz and Casper Van Dien

  • Running time: 89 minutes

  • Rating: ★★★½

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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