Like an overeager film-school grad determined to make the absolute most of his first outing behind the camera, The Pact writer/director Nicholas McCarthy throws everything but the kitchen sink into his feature directorial debut, a muddled ghost story about two haunted women returning home to confront their dark past. As a result, the film largely plays like a generic collection of horror clichés punctuated with the occasional effective set piece -- it's sporadically entertaining but never engaging, and so visually flat that you can't even savor the style when the shocks start to wear thin.
Sisters Annie (Caity Lotz) and Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) uncover a terrifying secret about their family's past after returning home for their mother's funeral, and they experience a number of paranormal shocks while staying in the house where they were raised. With only a bizarre photograph of their mother posing with an enigmatic woman and a series of frightening dreams to guide them, the two siblings delve into the past and learn that their quaint suburban house harbors a horrifying mystery.
Though The Pact shows promise for McCarthy, whose impressive use of economical special effects displays a flair for making the most out of a miniscule budget, the soap-opera-style acting in the beginning gets things off to a shaky start, and the setting of a suburban ranch house just isn't conducive to the spooky atmosphere he tries valiantly to create. He does show a knack for creepy imagery once Annie begins to investigate a secret her late mother tried desperately to conceal, but as a writer, his attempt to merge the supernatural with the physical falls short since the wooden acting and trite storytelling make forging an emotional connection with the characters impossible. This has all been done before (1999's underrated Stir of Echoes comes to mind), and after a while, the growing sense of familiarity stifles any chance of the film truly shaking us up. As a rainy-day distraction, The Pact just barely passes muster; let's hope with McCarthy's sophomore effort, he decides to focus on being a little more cinematic and a whole lot more original.