The biggest problem facing any modern horror movie is the burden of what has gone before. With the weight of decades of previous films bearing down on them, can an audience still be surprised and scared? Expanding his previous short film of the same name which featured Jewel Staite in the lead role, writer and director Nicholas McCarthy has opted for a different approach, and rather than striving for originality has instead blended a montage of elements, many of which have been seen before, but by adopting the maxim that if you must steal, steal from the best, he has created a fine telling of a simple story.
Troubled twentysomething Annie last spoke to her sister Nicole when she called her from their late mother’s house, asking Annie to help her sort matters prior to the funeral. Annie refused, and Nicole vanished. Moving into the empty house to investigate and battling memories of her abusive childhood, Annie finds more than old pictures on the walls and dead ends, and when her cousin and niece stay over on the night of the funeral, a threatening force manifests.
There is something old fashioned about The Pact, from the hideous wallpaper and furniture of the house to the bleakness of the industrial suburbs of San Pedro, which creates an honest and convincing world. Annie is not glamorous, nor has she had an easy life, but she is real and she is struggling both with her own life and what she has inherited. As Annie, Caity Lotz is excellent, resembling a young Gillian Anderson as she scowls at her laptop as she researches the disappearances. Strong support is provided by Haley Hudson as Stevie, a supposedly psychic schoolfriend, a fragile girl as opposed to the more typical mystic who would fill this role, and Casper Van Dien as the detective assigned to the case.
The elements McCarthy has taken from other works of horror are obvious, from the attacks on Barbara Hershey in The Entity to the flickering iPhone screen imparting messages in the way the “tv people” did in Poltergeist and the hidden room that contains the terrible secret of the house of The Changeling, but the greatest influence has been David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. From the camera gliding across the blank stares in the family photos as it prowls down the corridors of the empty house at night to the dominant industrial soundtrack that drowns the dialogue as Annie enlists the help of Stevie, a device lifted directly from Lynch’s Pink Room sequence, all are smoothly integrated into McCarthy’s story.
Coincidentally released almost simultaneously with Lovely Molly, which shares many of the same elements though progresses in a different direction, in many ways it is closer to a traditional Victorian ghost story, an investigation with supernatural elements sparingly added rather than the current Hollywood trends of horror to load digital ghosts into every frame.
While the story is uncluttered, that simplicity is also a weakness, in that the central mystery is fairly clearly signposted, and the audience are capable of making many connections before Annie. The title of the film is also curious, as it alludes to an arrangement never made clear, one side of which is implied and the other never addressed, nor how that shaped Annie and Nicole’s relationship with their mother and the house.