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The Pact | Review

One muddled alliance: Seek Out McCarthy’s Short Version

Nicholas McCarthy The PactNicholas McCarthy’s feature debut, The Pact, expands upon his successful short film of the same name, which premiered at Sundance in 2011. McCarthy’s debut is evidence that short films are indeed an art form and, if successful, do not necessitate a feature length running time. In fact, the tightest elements abound in the first third of the film, which shares the narrative of the short. McCarthy certainly nails a decent creepy atmosphere in his first few frames, but this convoluted turkey quickly kills any genre frills it tries to master.

The Pact opens with a rough and tumbled looking Agnes Bruckner, whose mother has just died. We learn she is a drug addict, four years clean, and her abusive mother certainly wasn’t anything to write home about. Kid sister Annie (Caity Lotz) wants to boycott the funeral. After an angry phone conversation, Bruckner calls her young daughter via a Skype-like device, who is being looked after by a cousin. The little girl sees a creepy man in the background and Bruckner goes missing that night.

When Annie gets on the scene, she simply thinks her sister jumped the wagon due to the familial stress. But all is not right in her childhood home, and she quickly learns that a strange and powerful presence is there, a presence that took her sister and is trying to take her. After her cousin is abducted by said presence, Annie goes to the dubious police (thankfully Casper Van Dien is there to lend a gruff and lusty helping hand) and moves into a hotel, determined to solve the mystery of the strange presence. What she uncovers involves a strange and violent family history, a drugged out psychic she graduated with, and lots of internet searches on a search engine called Global. Yes, she uncovers strange and evil things.

The most aggravating aspect about The Pact is that it features an intriguing idea and establishes a believable eerie atmosphere in its first twenty minutes and then the whole thing quickly goes to pot. Soon after Annie discovers a presence (tossed around the house in a terrifying manner that recalls the underrated horror film, The Entity, 1981) and begins her own investigation of the proceedings, led by her dreams and clues the presence is obviously feeding her, the idea behind the original short film unravels quickly.

Sporting dialogue that’s incredibly cardboard, the presence of a hammy Casper Van Dien doesn’t help much, especially when he borrows Christian Bale’s Batman husky growls while communicating with the emotionally distant Annie (also a character clipped right out of the cliché handbook). When a cracked out medium that graduated high school with Annie is called on for help, the presence communicates something about someone named Judas. Annie searches for this on her google-like search engine, and surprisingly, the results don’t yield any hits referring to Lady Gaga—instead, she learns of local serial killer from the 1980’s that used the moniker. Funny how that works. Annie doesn’t have to dig too hard for the twist to reveal itself, and at least the film’s climax proves Joan Crawford wrong—a wire hanger can come in real handy in a pinch. Forgettable and written as if it should have aired on the Sci-Fi channel, the film is desperately underwhelming. Here’s hoping McCarthy’s next feature is an idea worthy of feature length.

Reviewed on January 21 at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival – MIDNIGHT Programme.
91 Mins.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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