Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
The first scene of The Pact boasts one of the best-conceived scares I've seen in years: a woman, home alone, wanders her house, holding a laptop, trying to get an Internet connection so she can video-chat with her young daughter. Finally, she gets a clear signal. "Mommy," the kid asks, "who's that behind you?" And the connection cuts out. It's a lot like the classic look-into-the-mirror-and-see-somebody's-behind-you scare, updated to exploit recent technological advancements. It ought to be lifted by every other horror movie this year until it becomes an insufferable cliché.
Writer-director Nicholas McCarthy shows quite the command of horror-form in this haunted house-serial killer genre mash-up, his feature debut, particularly a facility with Shining-esque tracking shots down hallways. (He also makes the effort to put a clever spin on clichés; a Ouija board scene works much better when the board is scrawled on the floor of a closet.) The whole movie's creepy as fuck. When the first real jolt arrived 20 minutes in, I literally got goosebumps—and I couldn't even tell what I was looking at. It's that well-crafted.
So, it's only a mild disappointment that the acting and writing aren't anywhere near as good. In fact, they're kind of bad. When their mother dies, two sisters return to their troubled childhood home to sort through her stuff—but one disappears, and then some more people, and it's all like, what the heck is going on at this house? The metaphors are big and obvious, like the house's SECRET ROOM—prepare for the unearthing of family repressions!—while the actors deliver doltish exposition and act from foolish motivations. The reason, say, for the main character to return to horror house for the movie's climax is dumb. But the actual climax? Totally terrifying.
Opens July 6 at IFC Center