All families have their secrets.
The dysfunctional clan at the centre of Nicholas McCarthy’s ghost story have an entire closet full of skeletons waiting to rattle their gnarled bones.
Unfortunately for us, The Pact is expanded from the writer-director’s 11-minute short film of the same name and he runs out of ideas and dramatic momentum well before the bells have chimed on the first hour.
Hoary tropes of the genre such as creaky doors which open without warning and silhouetted figures that stand unseen behind the hapless characters are traded for cheap shocks.
The jolts are sporadically effective but we’re savvy enough to second guess where McCarthy will take us next and the nasty surprises that could be lurking around the next poorly lit corridor.
Production design is dark and gloomy, relying on what we can’t see to whir our imaginations into overdrive and conjure up scares that are disappointingly lacking in the script.
The film opens with Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) wandering around her deceased mother’s creepy house in Los Angeles, a laptop computer in hand as she makes a video call to her daughter and younger sister Annie (Caity Lotz), who refuses to step inside the property.
The little girl signals the start of the nastiness, asking sweetly, “Mummy, who’s that behind you?”
Nicole spins around, alarmed. A nervous peek inside the closet that adjoins the lounge is the last we see of her.
Soon after, ballsy biker chick Annie enters the fray, rightly concerned about the lack of contact with her sibling.
Strange noises, flickering lights and an unexplained break-in lead to the realisation that something is terribly wrong in the house.
So Annie asks local police detective Creek (Casper Van Dien) to investigate.
Through his lackadaisical methods, he reveals a secret room and sparks Annie’s horrific memories of her childhood that have kept her far from the city.
The Pact relies on some stratospheric suspensions of disbelief.
Annie’s determination to stay inside a home that has clearly been the source of so much pain is hard to swallow when an unseen force starts smashing family photographs and dropping items in the kitchen.
But when that same force starts flinging the stricken heroine around rooms like a rag doll, any sane individual would leap on to that motorcycle, head for the hills and never return.
Alas, McCarthy’s flimsy script has no room for common sense and so Annie prevails in order to set up an unlikely resolution involving an old relative (Mark Steger) from the poisonous family tree.
Lotz, Van Dien and co are forgettable and there’s a scarcity of action in the final third that suggests the writer-director would have been better leaving this hokum as a short.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10
Released: June 8 (UK & Ireland), 88 mins