Following the death of her mother, and the sudden disappearance of her sister Nicole (Agnes Bruckner), Annie (Caity Lotz) returns to the place of her troubled childhood – a ordinary looking Victorian-dressed house riddled with nightmares and mysteries she’d rather forget. As she realises there may be more to Nicole’s vanishing act than meets the eye, and supernatural elements begin to take their toll, she’s forced to delve further into the house’s – and her mother’s – past, uncovering lifelong secrets that no one, least of all herself, could have ever imagined.
Expanded from one of his own reputable shorts, writer and director Nicholas McCarthy’s feature length directorial debut enters the frame with some neat exposition and a deliberately disconcerting opening sequence; an operation that motivates the films main character, Annie, to overcome her reluctance at facing the past and, once and for all, uncover the puzzles concealed within the four walls of her mother’s indistinguishable suburban house. It’s a trick that, while initially off-putting, admittedly demonstrates promise in McCarthy’s desire to present something that defies typical expectations.
Unfortunately, as the narrative quickly settles into a commonplace and clunky mixture of supernatural horror and thriller, it becomes increasingly dependent on overdone conventions and characters simply introduced to ensure the narrative doesn’t dawdle for too long – particularly Haley Hudson’s psychic Stevie, who happens to be an ex-classmate of Annie’s. It’s only towards the final act, once Annie has plucked up the courage to perform an eye-opening seance that McCarthy regains control and is able to steer The Pact into new territory, that offers a bold statement and feels completely different to the elementary tale of supernatural forces we had been introduced to at the start.
From here, McCarthy finds his flair as a filmmaker, constantly challenging the audiences expectations with proportionate twists, turns and an unnerving sense of dread that not only allows for central star Lotz to step out from the shadows and deliver a performance that sees her rise above the sporadic proceedings and present herself as an actress worthy of material with a little more meat, but also shifts attention onto Walter Barnett’s impressively low-key production design. The one thing that hinders either element in their benefit to the overall experience, however, is found in McCarthy’s inability to provide either Annie or the mystery at the heart of the narrative with much of a core. This limits the effect of the ultimate outcome on the entrusting audience.
It may have made for a short full of intrigue and potential, but, when pushed and pulled into a feature film, The Pact fails to provide much in terms of originality and stature. McCarthy may show an ounce or two of promise, but if anyone’s to benefit from a film as undistinctive and cliche-ridden as this, then it’s Lotz for her willingness to contribute more to the inner workings than is likely to be remembered.