Adapted from writer/director Nicholas McCarthy’s short of the same name, The Pact is an effectively creepy suspense horror with a great central performance from Caity Lotz, a turn that should deservedly see her become one of Hollywood’s go-to scream queens. Lotz (most prominent on TV with Death Valley and Mad Men) plays Annie, who visits her old home in the wake of her mother’s death and the disappearance of her sister Nicole (Agnes Brucker) and cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins) from the same house just days earlier. In true horror fashion, It swiftly turns out that Annie is not alone in the house…
Originality might not be The Pact’s strongest point, with conventions followed right down to the dubious cop Creek (a grizzled Casper Van Dien) who helps Annie in her investigation. However, what is its strongest point is its faith in the audience with clues given and explanations hinted at, without the use of an exposition-heavy third act, and a pleasing divergence from the easy scare. Instead scares are often subtle, in the vein of last year’s Insidious, with corner of the eye appearances not greeted with bombast, but instead treated as eerily normal. That’s not to say there aren’t some well-staged shocks too, with the standouts being sequences involving the ever-reliable Ouija board – albeit with the nice twist that the spirit communicating is benevolent – and a sharp cameo from Haley Hudson as psychic Stevie as she investigates the house.
It all adds up to a horror that, while slight, offers plenty of chills along the way to be among one of the strongest Hollywood offerings this year. Yet while McCarthy is strong at building atmosphere, there’s little doubt that it would be half as effective if it wasn’t for the excellent turn from Lotz, providing a protagonist you really root for and are there for every step of her journey. Whether barely controlling her anger at her mother’s funeral or being flung around the room by an unseen assailant, Lotz puts in a fully committed performance and is helped by a script that doesn’t require her to do needless things to progress the story; when the proverbial hits the fan first-time around, Annie legs it out of the house like any sane person would.
And even if the climax finds itself in somewhat ordinary stalk’n’slash territory, the film has built up enough goodwill that it’s not a fatal flaw, aided by providing a solid twist that, crucially, manages to tie up the various moments in the film without tying itself in knots. It’s not a game changer by any means, but The Pact is a smartly made, cracking slow-burning horror that marks out both McCarthy and Lotz as names to watch in the genre.