IFC Midnight has been quite consistent in the amount of foreign and domestic horror they’ve released from the indie market. More often times than not, the material they’ve put out is excellent. They’ve had several more hits than misses, and as a result, exposed the world to some truly impressive filmmakers. For one of their latest releases, The Pact, they’ve presented the talents of writer/director Nicholas McCarthy to the public forum.
The Pact is a family story. It involves sisters Nicole and Annie (played by Caity Lotz and Agnes Bruckner) making the return to the home they grew up in, but with a large amount of trepidation, to pay respects to their late mother. Upon her arrival, Annie realizes that her sister is not only NOT in the home but that she is being joined instead by a very sinister presence. Whilst staying in the home, Annie begins experiencing disturbing dreams/visions that pieced together unveil a horrid, dark secret from her mother’s past. With each vision revealed, Annie gets closer to discovering this secret, but what she uncovers is far worse than she could’ve imagined.
Where The Pact succeeds greatly is in its reliance on a great cast. Nicholas McCarthy’s previous work was in the short film medium (in fact, The Pact was a short film prior to being turned into a feature length), so in order for him to make an impact, casting the right people was vital…and they did just that. The stunning Caity Lotz first landed on my radar (and probably a lot of other folks) with her stint on Mad Men. Her portrayal of the wayward Annie was spot-on. Annie enters the story with baggage. Though we are to assume she and her sister have baggage involving their relationship with their late mother (which is what brings her back to the home in the first place), it’s also evident that there is far more than just her upbringing nagging at her soul. She’s a young woman with open wounds and the one involving her family is the worst of all. This trip back home could be what mends that, but the risk of it becoming worse is equally as great. Lotz conveys all of that in her delivery of dialogue and body language. She presents Annie as tough, but clearly fucked. She was able to utilize the character as a spring board to tackling all the evil that has abruptly bombarded her. Lotz may be relatively unknown (For now only. MTV’s Death Valley, of which she is one of the stars, has gathered a cult following that will undoubtedly change that! -Ed.), but McCarthy was able to surround her with veterans of both genre film (Agnes Bruckner of The Woods) and character acting fame (Casper Van Dien) thus enabling her to tackle this leading roll head first. Just based on the short resume she’s already accumulated, I assume we’ll see her taking star turns next to hot shit Hollywood folk in no time flat.
On the directing side of things, McCarthy triumphs in spades. His story evokes both personal and spiritual pain while still being able to scare the hell out of you. He uses that gritty single camera/lens flare stuff the kids are all so fond of, sure, but he also combines that with classic cinematography stylings. This allows him to both involve the audience (the single camera sequences really did involve the audience member quite well!) but also still allows you to view from the outside. Meaning, it still has that fantastical feel one expects from horror-crime hybrids such as this. It still feels otherworldly when necessary, realistic when required.
McCarthy has also mastered the art of atmosphere. Generally, anyone with a short film background such as his figures this out in the most effective ways possible. When working in that medium, it’s my experience that those filmmakers close in on this ability much quicker. Working in a shorter amount of time forces you to really zero in on the fears you’re trying to conjure up. He seems to use that experience and apply it to The Pact masterfully. The Pact has several moments where you feel the unease welling up, yet, McCarthy still inches toward that big bad wolf causing your skin to crawl. He also goes after the audience pleasing moments as well, making you jump right out of your seat at all the right times. It’s this ability that blends the mix bag of genre elements to perfection.
Overall, The Pact does it exactly what it sets out to do. The characters are developed evenly, the story is cohesive, the cinematography is tasteful, and bottom line: It’s scary. Nicholas McCarthy translated his story in a personal manner that draws the audience to the characters. You WANT Annie to make it! You WANT her to put all these clues together and solve this evil puzzle. This sentiment is rare anymore in the post-modern horror film. Our cynicism would call for the heads of the protagonist in lesser films, but The Pact has you rooting for your heroine all the way to the end.
*Currently, The Pact is available on IFC Midnight Cable VOD and various digital outlets (SundanceNOW, iTunes, Amazon Streaming, XBox Zune, and Playstation Unlimited). The Pact opens in theaters June 15.*