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As a woman struggles to come to grips with her past in the wake of her mother's death, an unsettling presence emerges in her childhood home.
For more about The Pact and the The Pact Blu-ray release, see the The Pact Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on November 1, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Agnes Bruckner, Caity Lotz
Director: Nicholas McCarthy
» See full cast & crew
The Pact Blu-ray Review
Low-key spooks and a grisly murder mystery.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, November 1, 2012
Pulling off a low-budget ghost movie is tricky; with no money for intensive digital effects or meticulously dressed sets, the filmmaker is forced to rely solely on ingenuity and elbow grease. A carefully developed story becomes more important than ever. The tone has to be just right. The acting needs to be on point. The scares should draw the audience in and catch us off-guard. I'll give it to first time writer/director Nicholas McCarthy—in The Pact, he gets a lot right, crafting a fairly effective haunted house film out of surprisingly few moving parts. There's a noticeable difference between cheap and inexpensive, and McCarthy's economic style exudes more of the latter than the former. Sure, there are a few illusion- breaking moments here—when the D.I.Y. special effects aren't as convincing as they should be—but McCarthy makes up for it with wound-up tension and a spooky, uneasy atmosphere. While the film does have some narrative issues—including a padded, drawn-out middle act—The Pact is plenty capable of chilling those looking for a low-key, spectral murder mystery.
There really are only so many possible setups for a ghost story, and The Pact settles on the old relatives go to a recently deceased family member's home to make post-death arrangements trope. In this case, the dysfunctional mother of two estranged sisters has passed on, and it's immediately clear that her spirit—or some thing, at least—is restless inside the house. In the film's opening sequence, one of the sisters, the reformed druggie and single mom Nicole (Agnes Bruckner), putters about her childhood home—which is decorated with oppressive wallpaper and crucifixes in every room—and tries to video chat with her own daughter, who's being babysat by her cousin, Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins). Nicole's kid suddenly asks, "Mommy's who's that behind you?" and, of course, there's no one there. Creepy.
The video abruptly glitches and freezes—we know from countless other movies that ghosts like to screw with electronics—and days later, mysteriously, no one has heard from Nicole. Her motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing younger sister, Annie (Caity Lotz), has no interest in attending their mom's funeral, but when Liz informs her that Nicole has gone missing—both assume she's gone on a bender—Annie begrudgingly roars into town on her Suzuki to investigate. The only clue is Nicole's cellphone, which Annie finds inside the closet where their mother used to send them to sit when they misbehaved. Liz comes over to the house with Nicole's daughter after the funeral, and that's when the horror really begins.
Things definitely go bump in the night. A shadow figure is seen standing at the foot of Annie's bed and, later, darting down the hallway. Liz herself disappears completely, following Nicole into some presumedly supernatural oblivion. An invisible force drags a knife-wielding Annie across the floor Paranormal Activity-style, lifts her into the air, and throws her around. She escapes—after going back for the kid—and the next morning returns with police detective Bill Creek (a grizzled Casper Van Dien), who's skeptical of the freaked-out girl's claims but intrigued when they discover a walled-off secret room that Annie never knew existed.
At this point, The Pact is just getting started, but to elaborate on any more of the plot in detail would spoil the film's few surprises. Let's just say that when a decidedly incorporeal entity seems to request the help of our reluctant heroine in ferreting out the identity of a murderer, Annie turns to an old high school pal, Stevie (Haley Hudson), a blind goth chick/crack house resident who supposedly has psychic powers. Eventually, The Pact becomes as much of a flesh-and-blood serial killer movie as it is a ghost story, with the revelation of dark family secrets and the threat of very real physical danger.
McCarthy originally made The Pact as a short film and was commissioned to turn it into a feature after some measure of Sundance success. Unfortunately, the story does feel somewhat scant for this version's hour-and-a-half runtime. The plot drags its heels during the film's middle section— Casper Van Dien's character is almost entirely unnecessary—and there are some narrative turns that inspire more head-scratching than ah-has. (What's up with the bit about Annie and her mom having heterochromia—one green eye and one blue eye?) Still, McCarthy does manage to do a lot with very little, drifting his camera ominously through the hallways of the house and delivering at least two or three good scream-out-loud scares. Some credit should also go to backup dancer-turned-actress Caity Lotz, who some might remember for her 3-episode arc on Mad Men as Anna Draper's attractive young Berkeley student niece. Here, she delivers the necessary horror movie combo of curiosity and extreme terror, and proves to be an attention-commanding onscreen presence.
The Pact Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Pact very much looks like a low-budget film—the lighting and digital cinematography and color grading just aren't as polished as they would be on a bigger production—but don't let that stop you. The movie's 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation may not constitute eye candy, but it's free from overt compression problems and excessive image manipulations. (No digital noise reduction or harsh edge enhancement here.) In terms of clarity, the footage is actually quite sharp most of the time, revealing fine facial and clothing textures in closeups and generally presenting a tight, crisp picture. When it comes to color, the film has two main looks—a creamy yellow cast and a desaturated grayish vibe. Both seem slightly overdone to me, but this is a creative choice and not some objective issue. There's consistency here, at least, with deep-enough blacks and highlights that are bright without looking overblown. Digital source does spike a bit during the darker scenes, but never distractingly so. Overall, this is a stable, seemingly faithful Blu-ray encode, even if the film itself has a straight-to-video look.
The Pact Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Don't expect the immersive, carefully wrought sound design of bigger budgeted horror films, but The Pact's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track—like the movie as a whole—accomplishes much using little, with adequate dynamic heft and unwavering clarity. The mix is weighted toward the front, although you will hear some quiet ambience and directional effects during key sequences. Wind and street noise and insect sounds. Strange thumpings and creaks from the rear channels. A disembodied breath moving from back to front. The purr of Annie's motorcycle. None of this is particularly show-offy, but this is a good thing—it keeps the film rooted in reality. The action is backed up by composer Ronen Landa's reverb-heavy score, with snaking strings and moody piano lines. Throughout it all, dialogue is always balanced, cleanly recorded, and easily understood. This isn't a showpiece, demo-worthy mix by any means, but there are no distractions either. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The Pact Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
For whatever reasons—rights, presumably—McCarthy's original short film isn't included here, but we do get a decent commentary track and fairly comprehensive production featurette.
The Pact Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Pact offers equal parts serial killer mystery and supernatural spooks, making up for its meager budget with a few solid scares and sequences of white-knuckle, don't go in there tension. It definitely has some pacing issues—it's very obvious that the story was expanded from a short film —but those with low expectations will probably be surprised by how much debut director Nicholas McCarthy has done with so little. The film makes a decent showing on Blu-ray, and would've make for a fun, Halloween-night-in-cuddling-on-the-couch movie, but it unfortunately doesn't come out until next week, after we've already gotten our October-long horror jonesings out of our systems. Oh well. If you feel the need to be scared in November, consider checking it out.
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