The Pact: Sundance Film Review

The Pact

Park City at Midnight

Basic, efficient little horror item scares up a few little shocks, possibly enough for a modest commercial career.

Basic, efficient little horror item scares up a few little shocks, possibly enough for a modest commercial career.

Every horror film trick in The Pact has been played a hundred times before, but debuting writer-director Nicholas McCarthy knows his way around them well enough to still make the audience jump and afraid to look at the screen when it knows what's coming. Spawned by an 11-minute short of the same name that showed at Sundance a year ago, this very low-budget horror item was picked up at the festival by the Independant Film Channel for its new Midnight label and could scare up a bit of theatrical action before a more lucrative career in home markets.

The Pact demonstrates both why people respond to horror and why it's so routinely scorned. On the one hand, the film accomplishes what it wants to do, inducing squirms and fright as its heroine is put through the wringer by an elusive, insidious force. On the other, the protagonist does such stupid things, putting herself in obvious harm's way in the process, that the film makes you want to scream for different reasons. If you can forgive the latter, you can probably get with the former.

PHOTOS: The Scene at Sundance Film Festival 2012

At heart this a haunted house tale, but instead of a creaky old mansion the best this film can do is cheap little one-story post-war abode in some outlying area of Los Angeles. Tough biker chick Annie (freckle-faced blonde Caity Lotz) is called back home after a considerable estrangement to attend her mother's funeral. Quite soon, there are tip-offs that the house is not a peaceful place, with creepy music and sounds accompanying the many camera push-throughs of narrow hallways and hideously wallpapered rooms. It's possible that whoever is haunting this place is simply objecting to its longtime owner's appalling lack of decorating skills.

While perhaps not intelligent, Annie at least comes off as street smart, so it's a wonder she keeps staying in the house when, by some means, she starts being dragged and tossed about like a rag dog (she doesn't get to see what the audience sees—shock cuts of a silhouetted figure in the house). Her sister and another woman proceed to disappear and yet Annie doesn't leave the place, even after the rugged but troubled investigator she enlists (Casper Van Dien) discovers a room in the house she never even knew existed.

STORY: Sundance 2012: IFC Midnight Aquires 'The Pact'

It goes on the like this, with little jolts and shocks administered at regular intervals, until Annie is finally forced to do battle with the revealed source of all her family's problems. The climactic face-off ratchets up some final spasms of fear, which are nonetheless undercut by one or two more idiotic moves on Annie's part.

With its generally indifferent performances and lower-end production values, The Pact boasts no resonance or after-burn. But it does, in most respects, do the job, which is perhaps enough.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)

Distributor: IFC Midnight

Production: Preferred Content

Cast: Caity Lotz, Haley Hudson, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Sam Ball, Mark Steger, Dakota Bright, Agnes Bruckner, Casper Van Dien

Director: Nicholas McCarthy

Screenwriter: Nicholas McCarthy

Producer: Ross M. Dinerstein

Executive producer: Jamie Carmichael

Director of photography: Bridger Nielson

Production designer: Walter Barnett

Costume designer: Azalia Snail

Editor: Adriaan Van Zyl

Music: Ronen Landa

88 minutes