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Review - The Pact

30 May 2012
Creepy thriller lands in theatres
After the recent death of her mother and the disappearance of her sister, a young woman returns to her family home to piece together her family history.
Director Nicolas McCarthy first filmed The Pact as a short which premiered to great acclaim at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. On the back of the showing, he secured funding for a feature film project and chose to expand his original idea for his directorial debut.The Pact is clearly a low budget horror, limiting itself for the most part to a single real world location and building tension through atmosphere rather than gore or effects. But McCarthy works hard to stretch his limited resources, making great use of handheld shots which lurk just behind the characters – accentuating the tight corridors of the house. There may be little or no CG in evidence (in fact the poster showcasing a ghoulish form carved out of wallpaper has nothing to do with the final film), but some practical effects really help to amp up the creeps, especially those that focus on tossing the unfortunate performers around. And while fans of blood-letting may find themselves a tad undernourished, there’s a method to McCarthy’s abstinence from gore, making the few violent moments all the more shocking. Fact fans may be interested to know that the lead role was played by Firefly’s Jewel Staite in the original short. Sadly she didn’t make the transition to feature length (something we discussed with McCarthy in our interview, up soon), leaving the way open for relative newcomer Caithy Lotz to come on board as Annie. She’s a tad less obviously photogenic than your average horror lead, steers clear of most bad genre habits, bar a nocturnal underwear walk, and does a decent job with the drama and the physical demands of the film. Supporting Lotz is Starship TroopersalumniCasper Van Dien, easily the biggest and most incongruous name in the piece. He’s looking a little more grizzled these days and plays his cop role with enough wryness to make it engaging. And if you get bored you can always marvel at his fantastic chin. It’s an effective little horror then but not without flaws. The haunting itself is poorly defined, as are the abilities of the forces at work – at one point the presence becomes conversant with an iPhone but we’re still forced to sit through an awkward Ouija board scene. And when more obvious effects rear their heads the results aren’t always pretty, like a moment featuring some amateur photography. And there’s a last second coda which should be decorating a cutting room floor somewhere.The Pact takes its small cast, limited locations and cleverly played creeps and conjures up something perfectly watchable but there’s also a sense that McCarthy isn’t really stretching himself too much here. The film feels like a calling card, a serviceable feature on a small budget that should earn the writer/director enough attention to move on to bigger things. Atmospheric, nicely performed and occasionally creepy, The Pact is a cut price chiller that should provide some contrast to normal summer fare.
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