Thursday, April 19, 2012

DIFF 2012 Review - THE PACT

Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
Written by Nicholas McCarthy
Starring: Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, Agnes Bruckner, Sam Ball, and Haley Hudson
Synopsis: A young woman goes back to her childhood home after the death of her mother to find her sister and begins to experience odd occurrences. 

A year ago director Nicholas McCarthy was at the Dallas International Film Festival with his short THE PACT. It was lumped in with the other assorted oddballs in their Late Night Shorts program and really stood out to me. It has a very creepy atmosphere and leaves you asking questions and wanting more. After the program, I spoke to McCarthy who told me they were working on trying to get a full feature version off the ground. 

Fast forward to present day – he is back with said feature length version and had even completed a first draft of it at the time I spoke with him last year. From his short's debut at Sundance in 2011, it only took McCarthy a year to return, seeing his feature dreams realized. It’s only right that he show it to those of us at DIFF too. It’s a tremendous feat to be able to have that kind of turnaround in the indie world. That is something McCarthy should be proud of and well worth a pat on the back. However, what has happened in the translation from the short to the hour-and-a-half film is not very good. 

We begin with a young woman at the empty home of her recently deceased mother. She’s getting everything ready for the upcoming services and trying to video chat with her daughter when something strange interferes and drags her into a dark room down the hall. Now her sister arrives, unwillingly, to look for her missing sibling. She is not found but as the sister stays in the same childhood home odd things begin to happen. With help from police and a frail psychic she is determined to get to the bottom of what exactly is happening. 

This movie both depresses me and leaves me bored. There are some good moments that shine through from time to time. Some of the eerie dark shots around the house can get quite creepy, but the reliance on jump scares is nothing important or new. I understand that people want/expect them in a “thrilling” film like this but there wasn’t really any of that in the short – which is part of what makes it so great and unsettling. 

The bits with the town’s sketchy young psychic Stevie (Haley Hudson) are all rather interesting. The girl’s twitchy premonitions create an odd bit of suspense but they are abandoned far too early and left for directions that make little sense. The same goes for the cop played by SyFy Original Movie mainstay and space soldier Casper Van Dien. You get to a point where it becomes clear that the majority of the auxiliary cast is not necessary -- no matter how well acted their parts are. 

With or without anyone else, the story has made greater transitions between the two versions that cause more problems than just a few of the characters. What made the short so great is the simplicity of it all. One location, small cast, and an intimate but personal story of childhood fears and real life horror all attribute to building a heavy atmosphere that works. The 20-30 minute short (I believe, can’t remember or find the exact run time) tells a story much more interesting than the feature, which seems to abandon that original concept at around the five minute mark. 

Maybe what I liked so much about the short is what I didn’t like at the time. I didn’t know where it was going. A year ago that was annoying an left me wanting to know what was next for that girl, and wait awaited her in this house. Now I see that fate is better left in the dark. 

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