T’was just another quiet Saturday night. The Lady and I were in ‘chillaxing’ mode after a day of errands and domestic tasks and, being that we’re on Final Approach to Halloween, it seemed to be a night destined for Horror Genre Fare. Lacking the will or the desire to peruse our own extensive media library, we turned to your friend and ours…Netflix. Scrolling through the Horror section, a title suddenly jumped out at us. ‘The Pact’. I’d read solid praise for this film on a film site that I frequent and had it pegged in the back of my mind as one to eventually seek out. Well, ‘eventually’ turned out to be Last Night. We hit PLAY.
The Pact (2012)
As with many of the genre flicks I’ve been searing my peepers with recently, I went into this one completely blind. I knew nothing about the story or the cast. I just knew that a writer I trusted had noted this one as a solid bet…as horror films go. It’s a lower budget effort with a cast of largely good-looking ‘no names’ and, in the past, I’ve had a 50 / 50 success rate with flicks of THAT ilk. Sometimes, they turn out to be utter dreck (like the other one I considered reviewing here, that we watched on Friday – ‘Banshee Chapter’ (2013), or they turn out to be a powerhouse title that unexpectedly knocks me for a loop, like ‘Lovely Molly’ (2011) or ‘Martha Marcie May Marlene’ (2011). Was this one as good as those two titles? No…but they gave it a damn good shot!
‘The Pact’ opens by introducing us to a former drug addict named ‘Nicole’ (Agnes Bruckner) while she’s staying in her mother’s now empty house. Her mom just recently died and ‘Nicole’ is there taking care of the place till the estate can be settled. One night, after a heated phone argument with her estranged sister ‘Annie’, strange, unsettling events begin happening around the place. While investigating one of these occurrences, ‘Nicole’ suddenly vanishes. A few days later, ‘Annie’ (Caity Lotz) reluctantly arrives to look into her sister’s drop-off in communication. It doesn’t take long for weird shit to start happening. As ‘Annie’ gets pulled deeper and deeper into the dark mysteries of the house, she and her cousin ‘Liz’ (Kathleen Rose Perkins) form a protective barrier around ‘Nicole’s young daughter. Then one night…’Liz’also vanishes. With the help of a surprisingly understanding police detective named ‘Creek’ (Casper Van Dien), ‘Annie’, while dealing with her own mental demons, set to thoroughly searching the house for clues. It’s then that they stumble upon a secret room behind the walls…and shit gets dangerous.
While the filmmakers only had a meager budget of $400, 000, it’s safe to say that every dollar ended up onscreen. This movie, despite its limitations, looks surprisingly good. The cinematography is patient and competent, the lighting worked and the limited environment was used well and milked for all of it’s scary potential. There was also some supernatural effects that were pleasantly well-handled and thought-out (loved the zero-G slow mo!). They knew what they had to work with and maximized the potential. In my opinion, it worked. They couldn’t dazzle with all kinds of flashy CG, so they went in the opposite direction and played with those elements practically. What results are effects that will linger on and not be relegated to a bargain bin solely because the CG technology has aged beyond the film and the presentation now comes off as ‘cheap’. Come to think of it…I didn’t notice one CG element in this flick. They may have used some subtle ‘tweaks’ (one scene involving a TV and a distortion of reality comes to mind), but it was pretty much all ‘practical’. Which is cool.
The cast was admirable, in what they had to work with and how seriously they took the material. As the Protagonist, Caity Lotz (‘Arrow’) brought what she needed to with the damaged character of ‘Annie’. She clearly had a chip on her shoulder and it became an integral part of her character arc. At times, my girlfriend and I had a chuckle or two, stemming from jokes about her that we’ve applied to her ‘Sarah Lance’ character on ‘Arrow’, all blond wig and popping bosom, but mostly she showed some range beyond just seeming like her line deliveries were being given around a broken jaw. She ‘worked’ as ‘Annie’. The only other readily recognizable face was ‘Creek’, played by Casper Van Dien (‘Starship Troopers’). Since appearing in that awesome and strangely subversive sci-fi masterpiece (ok, that MIGHT be a stretch), Dien has been ‘bargain basement’ all the way, where his film career has gone in the last 20 years, so I didn’t know what to expect. I know he has VERY limited range and I braced myself when his appropriately grizzled visage appeared on screen. But…he also worked. It helped that the writers were good enough to write moderately smart characters; characters who you don’t find yourself yelling “Why the hell are you doing THAT?!” at, whenever an intelligent decision or action is needed in a moment of tension. I was pleased with the portrayals of these people. The rest of the cast is perfectly serviceable as well, especially an actor named Mark Steger (‘Judas’). This guy was a creepy motherfucker…and brought a nice ‘edge’ to the unpleasantness. As did the character of ‘Stevie’, played by Haley Hudson. ‘Stevie’ is a blind, drug addict-looking ‘medium’ who, along with her over-protective and over-bearing brother, is brought into the fold to try and shed some light on the frightening situation. She was an interesting character with a creepy and effective ‘look’.
If I had to bitch about something, I’d say that some of the connective tissue of the narrative could’ve been tightened for cohesion. They did a good job keeping it on track, but a couple times, we had to ask each other “Why is she here again?” or “Why is this happening?” (granted we were sipping on beer n wine as the flick played, so…). The answers were forthcoming, but the connections were played a little loose at times.
One thing I noticed was that the 1980 horror classic ‘The Shining’ obviously played as a stylistic influence for Writer / Director Nicolas McCarthy. Some of the compositions and edits, coupled with certain aspects of the Sound Design undeniably pointed to THAT Stanley Kubrick masterpiece. If you need something ‘tried and true’ to guide your cinematic vision, there are FAR worse titles you could emulate.
All in all, ‘The Pact’, for a REALLY low budget flick, is a good bet. The cinematography is solid and nuanced, the Main Location is well used, the acting is above standard for a film of this type and the story gets pretty creepy once the truth begins to show itself. This is also helped by a tonally-appropriate and minimal music score that bolstered the visuals with style. Most of the characters make smartish decisions; decisions that many of us may make in these circumstances…may we NEVER encounter such circumstances! Going in not knowing what to expect…I was pleasantly surprised by ‘The Pact’ and would easily recommend it for a Halloweeny-type of viewing. It’s not a lightning-paced film, but given the sordid story…it doesn’t need to be.
Not knowing much about ‘The Pact’ going in, I was legitimately surprised when Netflix helpfully suggest ‘The Pact 2’ for a viewing. Apparently this first film grossed over $3 000 000 in the Foreign Market alone, so when riding on an original budget of a mere $400 000, the smart money would be on capitalizing with a sequel, regardless of how unnecessary it may be, given the original story. That being said, I was VERY aware of the odds that said sequel would amount to just a ‘cheapie’, in-name-only effort…like SO much of the genre shit that Netflix hosts (the number of C-budget, lazy genre titles available is rather astounding). What didn’t help was the Netflix has graced this one with a single star rating. We braced ourselves for The Worst…and hit PLAY.
The Pact 2 (2014)
Right off the bat, I was pleasantly surprised. Visually-speaking, this sequel picked up right where the first flick left off, right down to the same font and shade of yellow for the title. It felt like a natural continuation. So…good start. I began to relax my expectations, as that one star rating eased off my mind.
‘The Pact 2’ introduces us to June (Camilla Luddington), a young crime scene janitor who lives with her police officer boyfriend ‘Meyer’ (Scott Michael Foster), and is working on a graphic novel from which the images gracing the work-in-progress pages are the products of strange and unsettling visions that have been plaguing her recently. They SEEM to be related to a series of brutal murders that have occurred over the last 20 years, up and down the Pacific Coast. Eventually, this brings her to the attention of a strange FBI agent named ‘Ballard’ (Patrick Fischler), who’s intent on discovering the truth about the ‘Judas’ serial killer, recently discovered by a certain ‘Annie Barlow’ (Caity Lotz), who has since inconveniently gone missing. ‘June’ begins digging deeper and deeper into the supernatural ‘happenings’ that she can’t explain and finds herself trapped in a situation that could very well kill her and those closest to her.
I don’t think that this sequel deserved a rating of a mere one star. That type of rating should be reserved for ‘The Asylum’-type shit, like ‘Sharknado’, for instance, or any flick out there where the lack of effort and competence is glaringly apparent. This, while not perfect, was several steps above garbage well deserving of such low repute.
Visually speaking, new directors Richard Dallas Hallam and Patrick Horvath did a good job of carrying on the style of the first film. The camerawork and lighting were again patient and composed well. At times, where the first flick reminded me of the films of Stanley Kubrick, this one developed something of a David Fincher vibe as the story played out (yes, I know that some people can see ‘Kubrick’ in Fincher’s work, but still). No complaints here, as I think Fincher is one of the most impressive ‘visual’ directors in the market today.
The acting, again for a low budget, is serviceable. Nothing Oscar-calibre, but enough to not distract from the plot and render it unintentionally hilarious. This applies to pretty much the entire cast.
When it comes to bitching, the plot is instantly where my mind goes. While they did try to change some aspects up, the story didn’t feel as though it added much to what was set up in the first film. It was more of the same…only different, if that makes ANY sense. The connective issues I had with the first movie were definitely on display here and it felt like some tweaking in the editing room would’ve definitely done this title some good. There was also a sequence in the 3rd Act that reminded me of the climax of ‘Scream’ (1996) just a little too much to be taken seriously.
All in all, ‘The Pact 2’ is a ‘not terrible but unnecessary’ sequel to a surprisingly effective first film. It’s technically competent, looks good with obvious care put into aesthetically connecting to the first movie, has SOME above-average acting and a couple good moments of tension. The music again works and there’s some inspired dialogue peppered through the script. Narratively, it’s too loose for it’s own good and the pacing does noticeably suffer, at times nearly rendering the movie ‘boring’. Both flicks suffer from a lack of concise story-telling, but this one wears the crown in that department. This sequel was not needed, but at least SOME effort went in to what they had. It’s no classic, and never will be, but it’s certainly better than just one fucking star, Netflix! If you opt to give it a shot…just know that you could do a LOT worse.