Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Supernatural and unnatural vie for power in Nicholas McCarthy's creepy THE PACT

"Creep" can be a terrific grabber for a scare movie: that weird, shivery feeling that helps hold you in thrall even -- maybe especially -- when you're not quite sure what's going on. The creepy movie of the year, perhaps two, arrives this week, as part of the IFC Midnight series: movies that get a very limited theatrical release but seem to bring home the bacon via VOD. Titled THE PACT -- which evidently confused some viewers (see the IMDB reviews) because the meaning of the title is never spelled out, though I think most intelligent audiences will be able to figure out who made said pact, and with whom -- this is the first full-length feature written and directed (from a short he made the previous year) by relative newcomer Nicholas McCarthy.

Mr. McCarthy, shown at right, certainly knows how to keep the creep coming: through noises, lights that dim or suddenly brighten, an odd movement in some portion of the screen, doors that may have something bad behind them, and of course the good-old, ever-popular "dark." All of these and more are put to use in ways that seem at once old-fashioned and oddly new, due to the manner in which the filmmaker has cobbled them together. Add to this the fact that it is (almost) always a young woman in jeopardy, as well as a child, adding to the audience's identification and feelings of vulnerability. Cap it off by making the young woman who proves to be our heroine a relatively strong one. She does very few dumb things along the way: When events grow scary, she gets out of the house fast, and when she comes back, it's with a policeman.

The movie traffics in a lot of oft-used ideas and visual motifs -- from ouija boards (above) moving around to strange girls with second sight, serial killers and spirits naughty or nice bearing messages that somehow just can't be delivered by phone, mail or carrier pigeon. But thanks to McCarthy's gift for pacing (slow but increasingly scary) and his ability to drop just enough information here and there so that we can figure something, but not nearly everything, out, The Pact works better and more consistently than any other scary movie I've viewed in a couple of years.

Overall, the film is better than Insidious, The Innkeepers, Silent House or Lovely Molly -- to name the four most recent scare movies I've seen. The plot involves a recently dead mom, two sisters who may or may not appear at the funeral service, the past come back to haunt the present and the de rigueur endangered child. This is all you need to know to have a good time as you watch and quake and figure things out.

The excellent cast includes a smart and sexy newcomer (to me, at least) named Caity Lotz (shown in the photos above and below), who, once a couple of other females (Kathleen Rose Perkins, Agnes Bruckner) go missing, becomes the movie's focus and (gee, what ever happened to...?) Casper van Dien (yes, Starship Troopers!), who is quite good as that policeman who involves himself in this odd and initially unbelievable case.

If the film's explanation and climax prove a little less than spectacular, they are still better than anything those other four films serve up -- mostly because The Pact has proven consistently scary and unsettling from first to last -- and by now, don't we know that the explanation is almost always less interesting than the initial mystery? But in this case, fortunately, only a little.

The movie, 89 minutes from IFC Films, opens this Friday, July 6, in New York at the IFC Center; in the Los Angeles area on Friday, July 13, at Laemmle's Noho 7, and has already been available on VOD and digitally for the past month.

All photos are from the film itself, with the 
exception of the director's, which comes courtesy 

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