A supernatural feast fit to make any Halloween season movie marathon real freaky
The Pact II. 2014. Directed/Written by Dallas Richard Hallam & Patrick Horvath.
Starring Caity Lotz, Camilla Luddington, Scott Michael Foster, PAtrick Fischler, Amy Pietz, Haley Hudson, Market Steger, Nick Micheaux, Brad Gunberg, and Suziey Block. Campfire.
Unrated. 96 minutes.
The Pact came out of nowhere for me, and despite what others have said about the film I thought it was a creepy, effective little horror. There’s a great hybrid of supernatural and serial killer horror that makes for an interesting effect. Not every single bit of it worked, but it was still a good horror movie.
Then, there was a decision to move forward with a sequel. When I first saw this announced, even as a fan of the first, I didn’t exactly jump for joy at the chance to see filmmakers try and extend the success of the original. My biggest problem is that the idea was complex, but it also remained a small, contained type of story that played out well on that scale.
With The Pact II, I feel like they tried to widen the story too far, encompass too much, and instead of sticking with what worked there’s just too little well written in the script to make up for its downfalls. I actually think that, had it been treated better, there could have been something useful made out of this sequel; there were several good, interesting ideas in the script, but I don’t feel as if they were appropriately played out. What might have been, in another universe, a decent flick ends up as a whole lot of junk, and The Pact II is relegated to the land of abysmal horror sequels.
After the events of The Pact, we catch up with June Abbott (Camilla Luddington). She is a cleaner who takes care of crime scenes after police and investigation units have finished. Soon, June begins to have visions of the now deceased Judas Killer, Charles Barlow (Mark Steger). She tries hiding it from her police officer boyfriend Daniel (Scott Michael Foster). However, copycat murders mimicking the Judas Killer’s M.O begin. June’s visions become worse and worse, she sees herself committing the murders, as if she were the murderer herself, right in his shoes.
Eventually, June sees fit to track down Annie Barlow (Caity Lotz) to try and figure out what’s happening to her. They also try reaching out to Stevie (Haley Hudson), the medium, but she cannot seem to offer much help.
Through twists and turns, June comes to figure out who the copycat killer truly is, and experiences firsthand the revival of the Judas Killer’s murders.
For the most part what I thought didn’t work about this film is not that the script is poorly written, it’s the fact that this feels like too much an attempt to extend the first movie for no reason. I mean, the logic just doesn’t seem to be there. The script is well-written in the sense that the dialogue is not bad, nor are the characters; I actually thought June Abbott (Camilla Luddington) worked as a character, and she had history, a personality, flaws. So it isn’t the characters and the dialogue. What does not seem to work, at all, is how The Pact very much had a purpose for the supernatural/serial killer mash-up: Annie’s mother was so distraught over the pact she’d made with her brother Charles, the things he’d done, that her soul and spirit could not leave the house until Charles was dealt with, killed, whatever. So I thought that was spot on.
In opposition, The Pact II seems to want to extend the supernatural elements beyond what they were reaching for in the first place. I just don’t see the point in bringing out a copycat when there’s no great, only tenuous, links to the first film’s plot; this is just an excuse to try and cash in on a good indie horror picture.
Of course, it isn’t the first sequel to try and stretch out a premise from the film which it followed, but I just find that this one did not work in the slightest. There were creepy parts, no doubt. I found the first half hour of the movie half decent. But once everything sets in, then certainly after the tension ratchets up and the climax hits – you just realize how misguided the whole film is, truly.
SPOILER ALERT – TURN BACK OR FOREVER SHALL YOU BE SPOILED!
The Pact II is also guilty of using terrible tropes. I mean, how many times have we seen the whole ‘the cop is the killer’. I’m not saying that someone out there can’t reinvent that whole trope and turn it around, maybe freshen it up somehow. But this movie uses it and there is nothing fresh about it. They even go for the ole bait-and-switch, using two different law enforcement officers, a cop and an FBI agent (how original), to try and throw us off the trail. Tricky, tricky.
What makes me sad about this is that the screenwriters/directors of this movie, Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath, did an awesome little indie called Entrance, which I could not get enough of! Still can’t, I watch it frequently. A lot of people couldn’t stand it because it’s the slowburn to end all slowburn horrors. Honestly, even as a fan, I can admit that so much of the first half of Entrance is extremely snail-paced, and there’s not much going on. Yet underneath it all, the terror lurks. I’ll have to review it myself because it’s worth the watch. Stephen King also raved about it; I totally agreed with his review.
But anyways, it just saddens me to see Hallam and Horvath, who I thought were going to be somewhat different than most writer/directors in the horror genre, came out with a truly poor idea. The writing itself is not bad, it’s just the whole premise of what they wanted to do, it really does not work. For all the decent dialogue (though not all is good – some is certainly bad), the few scares, a dash or two of creepy atmosphere, Hallam and Horvath cannot break away from the dull stupidity of The Pact II‘s original premise. They should have left well enough alone and not done a sequel, honestly, but I suppose the original made enough of a splash producers wanted to milk this one. Too bad they brought in Hallam and Horvath, hope those two move on to something much better.
For all its crappy qualities, there are at least a couple decent performances in this movie.
Camilla Luddington does a good job with the character of June Abbott. I did actually like her as a character, even within the bad plot. Particularly, I thought it was neat how they had her cleaning up crime scenes; this sort of played into her personality, as well as the later story. I’ve never seen Luddington before, but I enjoyed her performance. Just came across the fact she does the motion capture and voice for the newest incarnation of Tomb Raider, which is pretty awesome.
Surprisingly, Caity Lotz returned as Annie. She isn’t in the entire film, but seeing her here was actually nice. The movie has beyond just a few faults, however, having Annie’s character back sort of rooted things a little more than I expected. Either way, Lotz is a good actor. She is subtle and not one of the Scream Queen types, which I personally dig. Too bad the plot of this movie is garbage, otherwise having Lotz return would’ve worked even better had they been able to come up with something more interesting and sensible.
Ultimately, I can’t give The Pact II any more than 2 stars without kicking myself. It just isn’t worth a higher rating.
There are a couple creepy moments. One that really creeped me out involves the picture above; Charles Barlow, now a ghost himself (dumb dumb dumb), walks up slowly behind June and caresses her as she learns the truth about what has really been going on. That’s definitely a memorable scene, and it came off real weird/unsettling.
Other than that, there isn’t much else. A few decent scenes, plus the anchor performance of Camilla Luddington + the brief time we get Annie (Caity Lotz) back, but otherwise this is a complete dud. It’s too bad, I really loved the first one, this just does it no justice. I honestly hope that Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath come out with something much better and more interesting than this on their next effort.
The Pact. 2012. Directed & Written by Nicholas McCarthy.
Starring Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, Mark Steger, Sam Ball, Haley Hudson, Kathleen Rose Perkins,Agnes Brucker, Dakota Bright, and Petra Wright. Preferred Content.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
I’ve got to confess, I really have a thing for Nicholas McCarthy’s films. Of course I saw this before Home a.k.a At the Devil’s Door (which I’ve reviewed).
The Pact took me by surprise. There’s nothing here which reinvents the wheel, changing the horror genre. All the same, I feel like there’s good suspense in this movie. There is something to say for having a nicely executed film when it comes to tension.
Personally I enjoy the slowburn film, and The Pact is certainly one of those. McCarthy doesn’t just give it all up quick, revealing everything at once; there are motions to get to where he is headed. There are plenty of comparisons to the cult TV movie Bad Ronald, a classic in its own right, but I don’t feel like there’s anything ripped off here. Similarities at one point in the plot, otherwise it’s nothing to seriously consider for long.
McCarthy’s film is interesting – it weaves aspects of the haunted house sub-genre with very raw, serial killer-esque horror. The fusion is definitely creepy, and I found it a whole lot of fun. I’ve seen it a couple times now since it first came out, I was excited to see it when it had been first announced, and I’m sure I’ll watch it again – watching it once more as I review. There are faults, like a lot of horror out there, there aren’t so many that it ruins anything. One of the better indie horror movies I’ve seen over the last 5 years.
Nichole Barlow (Agnes Bruckner) goes back home with her daughter Eva (Dakota Bright) for the funeral of her mother. Her sister, Annie (Caity Lotz) hates their mother; it’s clear she was an abusive, possibly insane woman. Annie has too many residual feelings to go back to their old house. Finally, Nichole is able to convince Annie to come home, but when Annie does her sister is suddenly missing. With Nichole up and disappeared, Eva is sent to live with cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins). However, when Liz vanishes as well, Annie experiences a strange, supernatural event in the childhood home she hates so much.
The police, of course, are involved, but naturally they don’t believe a supernatural entity is causing the disappearances. One cop, Detective Bill Creek (Casper Van Dien) gives Annie the benefit of the doubt after they work past an initially rocky introduction. They go back to the house, looking for clues; Annie finds a hole in the wall, like a peephole, but not too much else. Annie tracks down a girl she knew from high school, Stevie (Haley Hudson), who acts as a ghost medium of sorts. Stevie is brought to Annie’s childhood home, where she channels the spirits – she also cries out “Judas!” over and over in a fit, until her handler Giles (Sam Ball) ushers the girl away, literally beating Annie away from them.
From there, the discoveries Annie begins to uncover are less supernatural, more real, more threatening and violent than she could’ve ever imagined.
SPOILERS AHEAD – Don’t blame me for ruining a film if you’re here mining for clues about it before watching; that’s just fucking nonsense.
There is plenty of debate over whether or not Charles Barlow (Mark Steger), a.k.a Judas, is a ghost. People often cite the fact there is one scene where Dt. Creek visits the Barlow house and his camera catches an apparent ghost on the screen. First of all, there’s no real way you can say for sure that the ghost-like apparition on the camera screen is Judas; it’s a blurry shot. People try to argue about the screen of the lens, the shot of the camera on film, yadda yadda. Look – it could easily be the ghost that’s already established to be in the house: the mother. We shouldn’t have to mull over a part of the film that can easily be explained without getting stuck on a small shot, that seems, to me, fairly obvious in its intention. Sure, it may be a little trick to some, but I don’t think it points to the fact that Judas is a ghost. He is not a ghost, in my opinion. He is a real killer, still alive, and still killing.
I mean, look at this way – if Judas was a ghost, like the mother was a ghost, they wouldn’t be seen, right? Then why didn’t he just wreak havoc on the several people in the house when Annie brought Stevie over?
Logically if Judas is a real living, breathing person, he’s not going to come up and start trying to attack three people at once. Even with a knife, there’s no guarantee he would make it out of there without at least one of them getting a good punch/kick/something in on him. Judas clearly had to be somewhat intelligent enough to come up with an intricate way of snaking around the house unsuspected, killing people all those years and remaining hidden away from the outside world – so, a smart killer would know when to kill, when not to kill.
Not to mention, Stevie the ghost medium picks up on the mother; she can feel the bad things, the abuse which happened, because she hovers around the closet, which is where so much of the abuse clearly took place at the hands of the mother. Stevie doesn’t say anything that could definitively make the case that Judas is a ghost; it doesn’t seem she comes out with any indications that his is the ghostly presence being felt in the house. Could be I’m wrong, I just don’t see anything pointing directly that way when it comes to her character. A decent indication, in my mind.
Some cite when Annie sees him on the bed in the motel, I believe that’s the scene. That also does not fly. She was having some serious dreams going on, she saw a decapitated woman; don’t forget, she jumped in the air towards the door as it closed and everything froze. I mean, do we really need to start to break down such obvious dream sequences? No. We do not.
The pupil dilation argument will not stand! When a person dies, their pupils dilate immediately. Judas doesn’t have massive pupils, however, we don’t see him immediately after he dies. He lays on the floor, the door opens – we see another reaction shot of Annie – all before the camera zooms in on the dead eyes of Charles. So, we again cannot make a definitive judgement with that information because it doesn’t fully jive. The reason, I believe, that they zoomed in on the eyes is obviously because of the earlier shot of Annie – we clearly see her eyes have heterochromia. It’s visible in other shots, particularly one right near the end when she’s crying, looking in the rearview mirror of her car and wiping off the tears; both different coloured eyes are seen. What does that suggest? Well, as far as I know, heterochromia is an inherited trait, so that would come to suggest that Charles Barlow is simply an uncle – he is Annie’s own father. At least, that’s how I see it anyways. I think others out there have noticed this long before myself.
My bet is on Charles Barlow, the Judas Killer, being very much alive. Not a ghost. That’s also the dichotomous part of what I dig in this movie: one part supernatural entity horror, one part serial killer mystery-thriller. Maybe I’m wrong, and Nicholas McCarthy has this pegged as totally supernatural. Though, I doubt that. If it’s all supernatural, that sort of spoils my fun. I like the bits of ghost stuff we get with the mother – as if the pact she’d made with Judas was so wrong she couldn’t move on to death fully until it was made right – she fought to push her own daughter Annie away, even as a ghost, to try and make up for what happened in that house. It’s a real fun mix, that’s one of The Pact‘s biggest strengths as a genre picture; there’s a crossover between the types of sub-genres throughout the film.
I thought the acting was pretty damn great, especially when you consider that there are so many indie horror bombs out there saturating the market to the point of overflow.
Particularly, I found the central performance by Caity Lotz as Annie Barlow to be a knockout. She is a great actress. Certain horror films seem to want to delegate the Scream Queen role to women – not all, but a good deal. The Pact doesn’t make the man the saviour – even when Casper Van Dien rears his chiseled head to seemingly lend a helping hand (he only ends up with a slit throat for his trouble) – instead, Annie Barlow is the one who must solve the mystery, who has to confront all the worst that her childhood home has to offer; both supernatural, as well as far too murderously real. Lotz shows a good range of emotion.
This also has a good deal to do with the script. Nicholas McCarthy doesn’t make Annie out as the victim. Instead, she is a tough, maybe even hardheaded woman who won’t take no in her search for the truth as an answer. Mainly I’m just glad McCarthy didn’t make this a typical horror – even if some of the moves are cliched at times. There are predictable elements, but he avoids (most of) the pitfalls.
Also loved Judas – so damn creepy. Mark Steger did such a fucking perfect job embodying this nasty, weird killer. I was just so chilled by his love of murder, the way he moved, the way he looked. When he was crying on the bed in several of those scenes… wow.
My biggest complaint about this one is at the VERY FINAL SHOT when McCarthy cops out, going for this one last sort of freak out – an eye opens wide, peering (seemingly) through a hole in the wall. I’m not even sure what McCarthy wanted it to achieve. Most of all, I think the shot confuses his message. On the director’s commentary, I believe he actually said he regrets choosing this shot and leaving it there, if I’m not mistaken. Too bad he ended up putting it here, it really doesn’t do justice to any part of the film; cheapens the ending when I found it all effective enough. I’ve not yet seen the sequel, and don’t exactly intend to because I thought this was good enough as a standalone film without needing a follow-up.
The Pact is a 4 out of 5 star horror film. I really do love the mix of supernatural and serial killer themes. That being said, I think that’s part of what makes the movie suffer. It’s not Nicholas McCarthy’s fault if people don’t get what the movie is aiming for – except for maybe that dreaded closing shot of the eye; big mistake. I do see that mistake as being a mixed message on the part of McCarthy.
It does not ruin the movie for me. I can’t let something minor like that closing shot totally destroy all the mood and suspense McCarthy setup throughout the entire film. Great horror movie, and again, it’s one of the best indie horror movies I’ve seen in the past 5 years or so. I dig McCarthy, and hope to see more horror from him in the future. He seems to do well with supernatural elements, though, I’d like to see him also try something that’s totally serial killer-centric; those latter parts worked so eerily for The Pact, McCarthy executed them with finesse.
See this if you haven’t yet. Maybe you’ll have a totally different opinion. Either way, I could watch this even more often than I already have because it’s creepy, fun, and a little fresh – despite what some others might have you believe.