The Barlow sisters’ mother has recently passed away, and the relationship between the two girls and their mom was so fraught that Nichole has to put a lot of work into convincing Annie to attend the funeral. But when the nomadic Annie finally arrives at the house she grew up in, Nichole has vanished. Soon after, someone else–the sisters’ cousin Liz–disappears while staying in the house. What happened to Nicole and Liz, and how is it tied to the Barlow matriarch’s past? And could some of the strange occurrences at the house have a supernatural origin?

Lots of movies don’t work. Some don’t work because they have a precarious balance of terrible facets and awesome facets that ultimately tips the scales toward the negative. Some don’t work because the skill of those making it aren’t exactly equal to their ambitions. Some don’t work because the main creative force can’t fight off the machinations of those who think they know better how to make the movie when they actually don’t. Some are just plain bad from start to finish.

And then there’s sort of movie that should work, except for the fact that it hinges on one or two things that simply destroy the viewer’s ability to believe in what’s going on. The Pact is one of these.

Basically–and avoiding spoilers as much as possible–what happens is this: about halfway through the film, Annie gets a shocking revelation. The problem is that it shouldn’t be a shocking revelation. It is, in fact, something that not only should be incredibly obvious, it’s something she should have worked out at least a decade before the movie even begins. It doesn’t speak well of Annie, who we’re apparently supposed to like, that she has simply never noticed this before. (It’s also probably safe to assume that Nichole didn’t figure it out either, since if she did, she almost certainly would have told Annie.)

Caity Lotz (Annie) puts in a damn good central Tough Chik performance and Agnes Bruckner (Nichole) is always a welcome addition to any cast even if she isn’t given much to do. Haley Hudson is fantastic as a local blind woman with psychic powers. Casper Van Dien is as good as Casper Van Dien ever gets as the cop assigned to the disappearances. (In fact, you could argue that the performances work in spite of the characterization–Annie’s such a stereotypical Tough Chik she even wears combat boots to her mother’s funeral, and of course she’s recovering from substance addiction.)

While a lot of the plot is hokum (yep, it’s another story about a ghost who will not rest until her killer meets justice) or contrived (there’s the case of Nichole’s daughter, who provides a bit of additional motivation for Annie, and then is apparently forgotten about for, oh, almost the entire rest of the movie) writer/director Nicholas McCarthy structures the story effectively, generating suspense in spades; his direction is atmospheric and creepy.

The Pact could have been a pretty good movie. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that it isn’t a really good movie, and that I’m not spending too much time dwelling on a couple of minor points that aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things. Certainly there’s enough here to enjoy if you take away the surprise revelation. But those minor points ultimately do break the movie for me.

Also, there doesn’t actually seem to be a pact in the film.

My rating: 5 of 10.

United States. 89 minutes. Directed by Nicholas McCarthy. Starring Caity Lotz, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Haley Hudson, Sam Ball, Mark Steger, Agnes Bruckner, Casper van Dien.

THE PACT poster

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