There is a saying that goes something along the lines of ‘It isn’t the material but what you do with it’, and this has never been more appicable than with the current crop of so-called supernatural thrillers. Ever since The Sixth Sense triggered a wave of ‘ghost stories with a twist’ there have been several high(ish)-profile films that have tried to be the next big thing in supernatural terror but have all played out pretty much the same. Can director Nicholas McCarthy bring something fresh to the genre with his debut feature film The Pact?
The story follows Annie (Caity Lotz) as she returns to her childhood home to attend the funeral of her abusive mother. Initially she didn’t want to go to the funeral but the disappearance of her sister Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) whilst living in the same house forces her to return. After the funeral Annie’s cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins) comes to stay at the family house with her young daughter but that night Annie has a dream about a strange man and weird things start to happen, culminating in Liz’s disappearance and Annie being attacked by an unseen force. Turning to the police and then a psychic, Annie begins to unravel the murky secrets of her family’s past.
Straight off the bat, it must be said that the strongest part of The Pact is the performance of the not-unattractive Caity Lotz – who looks fantastic astride a motorcycle, it must be said – as Annie, giving the right mixture of strength of character and vulnerability to make Annie a believable and sympathetic character. The fact that Annie reacts to the unfolding events like a real person only adds to her endearing quality.
The other strength of the film is the slow-burn terror of the first act, which immediately puts you in a state of unease, but the film just doesn’t keep up the creepy momentum that begins in the first 20-30 minutes and very soon falls into cliché-ridden ghost story territory that just feels like it’s going through the motions so that the audiences who lapped up Insidious, The Innkeepers, Paranormal Activity, The Woman in Black, et al can tick all the boxes.
Casper Van Dien shows up as Creek, the detective that Annie turns to for help, and proves that a) Starship Troopers was fifteen years ago and has aged better than he has and b) his Viggo Mortensen impression is coming on a bundle. To his credit, he doesn’t do that badly with what he’s given to do but what he’s given to do isn’t very much at all.
The Pact is a strange one to call because given it’s various components it really should have worked, but the sum of all of those parts falls very short of satisfactory. In a market that is being saturated with ghost stories that think they’re being clever The Pact had the potential to just tell a creepy story in an effective way without the need for the now-obligatory twist, but given that nothing seems to really gel together maybe it needed that extra something to give it a memorable moment – that ‘I see dead people’ moment. As it is, The Pact stumbles around for most of its running time – which feels a lot longer than 89 minutes – with a few anticipatory moments and a strong lead performance, but is ultimately too formulaic and by-the-book to rise above being merely average at very best.