There is a lot to be said for minimalist horror. Sure, jump-scares and gory thrills are an easy way to make a quick buck – but when done right, a subdued sort of horror can really seep under your skin and stay there. For me, The Ring springs to mind. While many would not consider it “minimalist” per se – I’ve always felt that it’s a great mixture of the less-is-more, Asian-style of horror (from whence it originated) along with the shock-horror, quick-cut scares more prevalent in US horror.
Nicholas McCarthy‘s The Pact is a US ghost story sharing a lot in common with the J-horror kind of methodically-paced mayhem. It even begins with the disappearance of several people in a row at different times, all in the same location – just like many films of the genre (all films in the expansive Ju-On/Grudge series, One Missed Call, to name just a few). Annie (Caity Lotz) begrudgingly returns to her childhood home after her estranged mother dies. She is forced to return after her sister Nicole and cousin Liz disappear shortly afterward – leaving Nicole’s young daughter Eva alone. Once she enters the home – a quieter version of all-heck breaks loose. Annie is attacked by a ghost, tries to get help from the police (Casper Van Dien in a surprisingly low-key performance), and eventually uncovers shocking evidence about her family history and an implied pact made long, long ago.
Were this tale told by a lesser filmmaker, it would have been chock-full of loud noises, jump scares, and any other number of standard horror gimmicky. Instead, The Pact is an uneasy slow-burn. All performances are quite good and the narrative is well-done. The problem is… unlike most of the films I’ve compared it to, The Pact stays so minimalist that boredom ultimately sets in. The scariest moments occur at the beginning and during psychic Stevie’s (Haley Hudson) visit mid-film, the rest is less than exciting despite itself. It’s so methodical – that it’s decidedly satisfying ending instead lands with a bit of a “who cares” thud. Had there been any truly shocking moments or scenes leading up to that finale, the dread would have lingered for quite some time.
Without any moments of terror, The Pact plays out as more of an hour of decent enough television instead of something more affecting and memorable. It’s a decent, J-horror-ish picture and you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time or money – but you won’t think about it too much once the credits roll either.