Directed by Nicholas McCarthy. Starring Caity Lotz, Haley Hudson, Casper Van Dien 16 cert, general release, 88 min
BE FRIGHTENED. The debut film from Nicholas McCarthy, derived from his acclaimed short, concerns a young woman who travels home following the death of her mother. A thousand low-cal indie dramas have played with that scenario. Bookshops (when they still existed) set aside entire shelving units for less than taxing literary novels with the same plot.
Happily, McCarthy’s effort turns out to be a pretty nifty horror film that, though at home to familiar shocks, manages to look unlike any recent example of the genre. Taking place in some sweaty suburb of Los Angeles, the film does some interesting things with online jolts as it alternates between cold-case procedural and Ouija board hokum.
Shortly after Annie (Caity Lotz) arrives at the grubby homestead, she becomes aware that something macabre is afoot. Her sister, a recovering addict, has gone missing and malevolent forces have made it their business to buffet anybody foolish enough to peer where no sensible person should peer.
Playing with a common recurring dream, McCarthy has his protagonist discover a room that she never knew existed. Then it emerges that her family may have had doings with a serial killer. Casper Van Dien, best known as one of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, is on hand to simmer, frown and politely question her wilder surmises.
The Pact does, unfortunately, reveal evidence of its origins as a short. The middle section features a little too much fussing about in files and wading through websites. McCarthy is also guilty of unleashing too much weirdness too soon: Annie takes her early tussle with (we first assume) a poltergeist with surprising sang-froid.
But The Pact succeeds by virtue of its fresh texture and angsty performances. It’s refreshing to see a horror film set neither in southern slime nor middle-class lawn-sprinkler Nowhere. Lotz brings convincing grit to her performance, and the picture offers a final shock that would have pleased MR James.
We have taken notice, Mr McCarthy. You will work again.