The beauty of microbudget horror movies is how little it takes to puncture the placid surface of the psyche: A stray thump or an empty space is enough to suggest the terror of the unseen, especially when it’s channeled through an effective onscreen surrogate. But when the pieces aren’t put together properly, or a filmmaker starts mucking up the works, you’re left with the sense that the bumps in the night aren’t unnameable fears so much as a clumsy grip tripping over a light stand.
In The Pact, the house vacated by the abusive, recently deceased mother of a motorcycle-riding young woman (Caity Lotz) is full of more than bad memories. A furtive presence makes off first with her older sister and then her cousin, forcing this reluctant visitor to stick around. Bad move: As the camera follows her through the dingy ranch house, electric lights sputter and pickle jars smash, among a host of other resolutely unfrightening manifestations. Writer-director Nicholas McCarthy contrives a few surprises, but in the end, he merely trades one tapped-out genre for another. Lotz’s grudging fortitude provides enough engagement to let you overlook the cracks in the film’s facade, but when she cedes the screen to Casper Van Dien’s thick-witted police detective, all you can see are the gaps.
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Cast and crew
Casper Van Dien