An unhappy young woman with a tragic past travels back to her old family home following the death of her mother, only to discover that ... wait, let me go take a nap.
Surely we've seen a dozen or so horror films that could boast that same sketchy premise, and here is yet another one. Nicholas McCarthy's The Pact does, to be fair, manage to deliver a decent combination of supernatural and practical horrors in its final act, and the lead actress is pretty excellent throughout, but on the whole the film has serious pacing issues, a distinct lack of energy, and very little in the way of distinctness or originality.
It's a 50/50 equation, truth be told, which means I'd understand if horror fans dismissed The Pact as a big-time snooze-fest -- but I certainly wouldn't be surprised to hear the film called a deliberately-paced but adequately effective tale of death, ghosts, and a long-forgotten serial murderer. The basic plot, as detailed above, is nothing too taxing: the well-intentioned but frustrated Annie (Caity Lotz) returns to her (now-dead) mother's house, a place she despises, and before she knows it, her sister and cousin go missing. With an adorable little niece to worry about, Annie quickly accepts that something otherworldly is afoot, and much of The Pact sees her bouncing ideas (and exposition) off of a skeptical cop (Casper Van Dien) and a waify, creepy, reluctant medium played by the very committed Haley Hudson.
Where The Pact gets considerably more interesting than its premise implies is late in Act II, when we learn that not only does Annie have to deal with a dead mom, missing relatives, and a helpless child, but also aggressive ghosts, hidden rooms, and a family history straight out of the Manson family. Writer/director McCarthy seems like he has no shortage of basic yet enjoyable ideas to work with, but The Pact, expanded as it was from a fine short film, often feels like it's spinning its wheels in order to fill a little bit of the running time. It's never too egregious -- hell, the movie clocks in under 90 minutes -- and, again, leading lady Lotz keeps even the most familiar of trappings worth watching, but at its worst moments, The Pact feels almost like a TV-style procedural piece.
Kudos to McCarthy and cinematographer Bridger Nielson on making a low-budget feature look like a million bucks, and the score (by Ronen Landa) is certainly worth mentioning. Even during its most predictable and perfunctory moments, The Pact has a professional quality to it. It's simply not a horror flick / psychological thriller worth getting all that excited about -- nor is it any sort of fiasco, either. As a calling card for Nicholas McCarthy, I think it should certainly open a few doors.