Following their mother's death, estranged sisters Nicole and Annie return to the childhood home they shared to deal with her affairs. Annie begins searching through her mother's belongings when, upon finding a picture of an unknown young woman, she starts to sense an unusual presence in the house. Cue a series of spooky events and ghostly apparitions, and you’ve got yourself a premise for another samey horror movie...
The Pact centres around Annie; a striking, willful young woman who takes up a nomadic existence after leaving home as a teenager, and her sister, a former drug addict with a young daughter in tow. It soon becomes clear that the sister’s chaotic lifestyles are a product of a tumultuous upbringing at the hands of their abusive mother - suggestive one-liners from Annie such as “You have no idea how bad it was” and “That’s where she used to take us...when we were bad,” pave the way for a climactic scene where the horrors of their childhood and the apartment’s ghostly presences are revealed.
Or at least, they should. The strung-out build up to an ending like this, peppered with loaded silences and incongruous piano chords, leads to nothing, as the film tries to grapple with too many sub-plots and characters at once, never going into adequate detail. As a result, gaping holes are left in the plot that are never answered, and the audience is left wondering why they were created in the first place. Far too many whimsical sub-plots are picked up and fiddled with before they are abandoned, adding up to an insubstantial plot with an ending that makes little to no sense.
As one character is introduced, and the audience begin to learn about their relevance to the plot, they are discarded and never returned to. A great deal of time is put into establishing the family dynamic of the warring sisters and their mother, before their story is forgotten in favour of threadbare plot mechanics. Nothing related to the girl’s relationship or that with their mother is linked to the main plot at all, and certainly not to the film’s ‘big reveal.’
To director Nicholas McCarthy’s credit, he avoids the current trend in horror films for unrelenting blood and gore, rather refreshingly making a return to classic, reliable methods of achieving a scare through a good old ‘haunted house’ plot and eerie music. Unfortunately, in doing so it seems he has been tempted to re-visit almost every age-old, predictable trope that comes with it, somehow ruining what could have been a fresh take on the familiar, trusted formula.
Like many horror directors do, he treats every second of this film as precious, as the film’s tense moments rely heavily on pranging piano chords and drum beats to achieve the only genuinely jarring, scary moments in the film, startling the audience in a way that isn’t as oddly pleasurable as it should be.
Even with its Ouja boards, creaking floorboards, clairvoyants, uprooted family photographs and flickering lights, The Pact could do nothing to shock or surprise. While it boasted certain stylistic merits, the film lacked any real substance, and remained disappointingly familiar throughout.