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Following the crowd-pleasing JUAN OF THE
DEAD (my review here)
in the double bill presented by the Toronto After Dark Summer Screenings was THE
PACT. With a confident hand on the wheel, director Nicholas McCarthy weaves
together a complex and pleasingly modern take on the classic haunted house
tale. Like any older house on the market, there are problems – the wiring
doesn’t always connect, one burner is always out on the stove and someone’s
tipsy uncle did the uneven tile in the bathroom—but despite the minor flaws the
foundation is solid.
Annie (Caity Lotz) must reluctantly return
to her childhood home and help her recovering addict sister Nicole (Agnes
Bruckner) settle the family affairs in the wake of the death of their abusive
mother. When Nicole disappears, leaving her young daughter Eva (Dakota Bright)
it is up to Annie and police detective Creek (Casper Van Dien) to unravel the
mysteries of the house and a family history even darker than Annie could
The haunted house works so well because a
house is such a good metaphor. It’s a place of safety, of refuge for us, but
also a place of secrets. We as people tend to take off the various masks we
wear outside when we get home. We shed the social skin and feel like we can
settle into who we really are. For most, this is liberating and healthy, but
for some the obscurity, the safety from the prying eyes of our peers unleashes
a beast. We can be ourselves when we feel safe from judgment but we can also
give ourselves over to our worst impulses. The bright sunroom might look
appealing, but the basement is where we hide the ugly things we don’t want the
world to know.
So it is with THE PACT. The house is a lair
of secrets that begins with the secrets of the abuse the sisters endured at the
hands of their mother, to the secrets of a mysterious presence and the
disappearance of Nicole. The search for truth leads right to the basement of course,
but getting there is a complex and interesting trip that mostly works, but
One of the things that completely impressed, is when Annie enlists the help of the psychic Stevie (Haley Hudson). Stevie
is not a Sylvia Brown-esque celebrity psychic. She appears gaunt and barely
connected to reality, doped up the majority of the time. The stresses of being
able to communicate with the dead have left Stevie a physical and psychological
mess and to me, that strikes a chord of reality. If one could interact with the
“other side,” I have a feeling they’d be barely functional shells of human
beings like poor Stevie. This character does so much to enhance the sense of
dread about the house and the supernatural forces at work.
Another highlight is not letting the male
cop hero figure undermine the strength of the female lead. He comes in
patronizing, and lesser films would have kept him on that kind of pedestal,
protecting the poor helpless woman. Annie proves time and time again she is far
from helpless and they become more like peers, trapped in terrifying
There are uneven patches in the road
though. Under a lesser director the film would have quickly collapsed under a
convoluted plot and. While McCarthy skilfully holds things together, I couldn’t
help but feel the script could have used polish. There are also the requisite
in-movie internet searches that had some groans from the audience.
Overall though, THE PACT delivers the
chills, and in several places I was outright scared purely through being
engrossed in the scene and feeling those waves of dread wash over you, not by
cheap jump-scares with big orchestra hits. It’s a solid film with some great
performances that I would recommend for a scary night in.
Bloody Blogs -
Long Live the New Flesh
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