'The Pact'

The haunted-house movie is badly in need of a fresh cinematic blueprint, but it's not getting it with the routine and borderline risible "The Pact."

The haunted-house movie is badly in need of a fresh cinematic blueprint, but it’s not getting it with the routine and borderline risible “The Pact.” Expanding his much-discussed short to feature form, writer-director Nicholas McCarthy runs out of interesting ideas at a distressingly early point and concludes with a less-than-haunting third act. Pic will deliver minimal scares for IFC’s Midnight label on cable and latenight VOD appointments.

Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) is taking care of her just-deceased mother’s home in Los Angeles’ South Bay area, and upset that sister Annie (Caity Lotz) is refusing to come. Annie doesn’t want to enter the house, and her reasons are abundantly clear mere minutes into the film, with flickering lights and electricity that seems to have a mind of its own. A ghost (and possibly more) is whooshing around the place, though Nicole, naturally, is oblivious.

The devices onscreen are so cliched that it’s a wonder that McCarthy handles it all in dead earnest, with not a soupcon of irony. When Annie does show up, she’s greatly concerned by Nicole’s sudden disappearance, and some violent altercations and goofy effects convince her to go to the cops. Casper Van Dien hardly fits the bill as chief investigator, and besides, it’s Annie who digs to unearth the secrets literally concealed in the abode.

Lotz puts up a tough veneer with her motorcycle-chick look, and her performance anchors the action, but there’s little emotional basis for the family drama at the heart of the film’s backstory. Business involving a troubled relative (Mark Steger) comes off as arbitrary and disconnected, and not nearly as creepy as intended.

The stars of the pic’s tech team are Bridger Nielson’s diversified cinematography and Walter Barnett’s all-crucial production design.

The Pact

Production

An IFC Midnight release of a Content presentation of a Preferred Content production. Produced by Ross M. Dinerstein. Executive producer, Jamie Carmichael. Co-producer, Jaime Burke. Directed, written by Nicholas McCarthy.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Bridger Nielson; editor, Adriaan Van Zyl; music, Ronen Landa; music supervisor, Joe Paganelli; production designer, Walter Barnett; set decorator, Sandy Hubshman; costume designer, Azalia Snail; sound (stereo), Eugene Thompson, Chris Howland, Mike Colton; visual effects supervisor, Padraic Culham; special effects makeup, Autonomous FX; associate producer, Sam Zuckerman; assistant director, Dave Paige; casting, Lindsey Hayes Kroeger. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 21, 2012. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Caity Lotz, Haley Hudson, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Sam Ball, Mark Steger, Dakota Bright, Agnes Bruckner, Casper Van Dien.

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