Following the positive response to the short movie of the same name, The Pact is one of those horror movies that saw a limited theatrical release. Caught in between the Torture Porn and found-footage cycle of the 2000s and bigger The Conjuring and Insidious universe release, most horror fans probably missed it. And that’s too bad because The Pact is one of those quiet horror movies that sticks with you. Neither a classic nor a genre-bending thriller, The Pact is a subtly effective mix of supernatural horror and mystery that impressed most critics.
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The Pact a Subtly Scary Thriller In Spite of Some Uneven Genre Mixing
“Mommy, who’s that behind you?” That’s about as subtly scary of a start to a horror movie that you could ask for. And ‘subtle’ stands out as perhaps the best word to describe how The Pact approaches its scares. Writer and director Nicholas McCarthy (The Prodigy) establishes a quietly mood tone right from the thriller’s opening shot of Caity Lotz’s ‘Annie’ and her eyes. Though there’s a handful of jolts spread throughout, McCarthy mostly keeps things pretty restrained. The Pact is more concerned with atmosphere and mystery and even avoids too much explicit gore despite its serial killer narrative. Maybe its deliberate pacing doesn’t slow burn enough for some fans. Even the finale doesn’t spiral as much into stalk and slash antics. So while it’s methodical, The Pact never feels sluggish or dull.
Though there’s a handful of jolts spread throughout, McCarthy mostly keeps things pretty restrained. The Pact is more concerned with atmosphere and mystery …
In part, The Pact benefits from McCarthy’s blending of genres though not always consistently. At different point, McCarthy switches from supernatural horror to serial killer story to mystery. Not all of these elements equally stick their landing. That is, the supernatural aspects of the story produce some good scares, including one memorable shock with Annie’s childhood psychic friend. But the supernatural elements also feel a bit discordant with where the thriller inevitably goes with its narrative. By the closing credits, one gets the impression these parts of the movie were present just to misdirect audiences.
The Pact Sets Itself Apart With an Intriguing Mystery and Good Lead Performance
McCarthy’s commitment to his story’s mystery elements plays out much better. In addition to allowing audiences to invest in the thriller’s quieter scenes, The Pact avoids the trappings of serial killer brutality by opting to focus on the history of ‘The Judas Killer’ and how he figures into the main plot. To his credit, McCarthy avoids lazy expository dialogue, leaving some elements ambiguous and forcing the audience to fill in the blanks. As a result, however, McCarthy may leave some plot holes behind. Nonetheless, The Pact scores a whopping shock in its third act that’s all the more impressive in how the thriller still plays it very quietly.
To his credit, McCarthy avoids lazy expository dialogue, leaving some elements ambiguous and forcing the audience to fill in the blanks.
Before The Pact released, Caity Loitz got her big break in a smaller recurring role in AMC drama, Mad Men. Shortly thereafter, Lotz found a larger audience courtesy of her role as Sara Lance/The White Canary in The CW’s Arrowverse. As the jaded Annie, Lotz gets to stretch out a bit as an actor with a character that’s more layered. Lotz shows range as a woman embittered by her past and the need to return somewhere she’d rather not be. That initial quiet brooding gives way to increasing fear and desperation and Lotz sells all these emotions. And it’s always nice to see Casper Van (Starship Troopers) even if his character falls victim to the ‘useless cop’ horror trope.
The Pact an ‘Under-the-Radar’ Horror Movie Worth A Look
No, The Pact doesn’t re-write any genre rules in its execution. Nor is it likely to blow any horror fans’ minds after watching it. But it’s one of those ”under-the-radar” movies deserving of a watch and future recommendations. Writer and director Nicholas McCarthy carefully plots a clever thriller that mostly avoids horror and serial killer movie tropes. Sometimes its mix of supernatural horror and grounded thriller raises questions. Nevertheless, The Pact is consistently creepy and Caity Lotz’s performance keeps you engaged in the movie’s quieter moments.