Director/Screenplay – Nicholas McCarthy, Producer – Ross M. Dinerstein, Photography – Bridger Nielson, Music – Ronen Landa, Visual Effects Supervisor – Padraic Culham, Makeup Effects – Autonomous Fx, Inc., Production Design – Walter Barnett. Production Company – Preferred Content.
Caity Lotz (Annie Barlow), Casper Van Dien (Detective Bill Creek), Haley Hudson (Stevie), Agnes Bruckner (Nicole Barlow), Kathleen Rose Perkins (Liz), Sam Ball (Giles), Mark Steger (Charles Barlow/Judas), Dakota Bright (Eva Barlow)
Annie Barlow travels to San Pedro for the funeral of her mother. Going to stay at her mother’s house, she puzzles over what happened to her sister Nicole who she spoke to just before leaving but has disappeared. She puts this down to Nicole using drugs again. She invites a mutual friend Liz, who is caring for Nicole’s daughter Eva, to stay at the house but wakes to find that Liz has gone missing too. Annie is then attacked by a supernatural force. She flees the house, seeking the help of the police, although detective Bill Creek treats her story dubiously. Gradually, Annie realises that dead spirits in the house are trying to guide her to uncover the truth about what happened to them and are putting on the trail of a never-apprehended serial killer known as Judas.
The Pact was a debut feature film for Nicholas McCarthy. McCarthy had earlier directed several shorts and the film here is expanded out from one of these, the eleven-minute The Pact (2011). The original version was made starring Jewel Staite as a woman realising that there is a haunted figure in her late mother’s house.
With the opportunity to expand things out on a bigger budget, Nicholas McCarthy generates some fine atmosphere. There are some particularly spooky scenes early on – shadowy figures flitting around on the periphery of vision; Agnes Bruckner’s daughter on the webcam wondering who is behind her mother when there is nobody in the house; and the scene where Caity Lotz is abruptly picked up and flung around by an invisible force. Nicholas McCarthy builds the film with often unnerving effect – like where Caity Lotz brings blind psychic Haley Hudson to the house who announces “there is someone in there” when she walks into the closet, followed by the abrupt shock of seeing a figure floating up around the ceiling that then starts coming after them.
In these scenes, I was particularly impressed with what McCarthy seemed to be building up to. He demonstrates an assurance with genre material and an ability to produce original and spooky scares in a field that has become overrun with tedious copycat product that endlessly mines a limited formula. The only other unknown director who made such a confident first-off genre entry in recent memory was Mike Flanagan with Absentia (2011).
The only point that The Pact starts to fall down is during its third act where it moves from these eerie effects to having to come up with answers for everything that is going on. [PLOT SPOILERS]. It becomes decidedly improbable when we go from a standard two-three bedroom suburban house that not only appears to be haunted but has an entire hidden room in its midst that had housed a serial killer without the two sisters ever being aware of it while growing up. What we end up with feels like a non-comedy version of Housebound (2014).
The film is spearheaded by the previously unknown Caity Lotz, who you would swear is a younger, unhappier sister of Gillian Anderson. Lotz gives a capably intent and serious performance and is clearly an actress with a future ahead of her. The only known names in the film are the B-list ones of Casper Van Dien and Agnes Bruckner, although both have minor roles and end up being killed off unexpectedly when you are expecting them to be inhabiting larger parts.
Nicholas McCarthy subsequently went onto make the equally spooky and worthwhile Satanic impregnation film At the Devil’s Door/Home (2014) and the evil child film The Prodigy (2019), as well as the Easter episode, the best segment of the horror anthology Holidays (2016).
The Pact II (2014) was a sequel featuring a return performances from Caity Lotz and Haley Hudson.