In Horror Bucket List, I fill in gaps in my horror film knowledge based on recommendations from friends on Twitter. We then have a back and forth discussion about their history with the film.
Plot: As a woman (Caity Lotz) struggles to come to grips with her past in the wake of her mother’s death and the disappearance of her sister, an unsettling presence emerges in her childhood home.
When did you first see The Pact and why did you want to discuss it?
I must have first seen it back around 2013 when Caity Lotz first started on the show Arrow. I absolutely fell in love with her and sought out her unfortunately limited filmography.
I wanted to discuss it because so few people have heard of it — I doubt I would even have seen it if it hadn’t been for Caity– and it’s a genuinely good little ghost flick. I wouldn’t solely recommend it in terms of a Caity Lotz Thirst Watch, although this checks that box as well!
Yes, this is very much Caity’s film and if you like her for more than just her acting talent, it’s basically “the Caity Lotz tank-top show”! Lol
It is and I’m grateful for it. I also grew up in San Pedro, so that’s another personally fun element to this one. When I first watched it, I gasped because I recognized the exact spot on the 110 freeway Annie is on.
Is there a specific scene or visual element that comes to mind when you think of the film?
My lesbian answer to this would be Caity Lotz’s wardrobe and whoever decided to put her in flannel and motorcycle jackets. (Not to mention the booty shorts…)
However, the scene that I ultimately associate this film with, which sets it apart for me, is the big twist, the reveal of Charles Barlow emerging from the secret room. It’s eerie and discomforting to watch this gross figure slowly mosey his way out of hiding. He’s tall, dirty, lanky but somehow shredded? He eats peanut butter with hands STRAIGHT from the jar. The scariest part. I don’t need that in my house.
This was the first movie I had seen to use the “Someone has been secretly living in the house/walls/etc” twist. I’ve since seen it used in other films like Housebound or The Boy to explain paranormal occurrences. We even recently saw it in Parasite!
What sets The Pact apart to me as the most prominent example of this trope is that the ghosts ALSO exist. They even end up helping our protagonist in Thirteen Ghosts fashion.
Yes! I knew about the film’s twist before watching because I’d seen it on lists that compare it to the films you list above, so the actual inclusion of ghostly elements was the biggest surprise to me. I looooved the scene where Annie (Lotz) is thrown around the hallway with the knife!
Tell me: do you think that the film still works even if you already know the twist? A large portion of it does hinge on the reveal of Charles Barlow (Mark Steger) being physically present.
Oh god, I’m sorry that you already knew the twist! I went in not knowing and it blew my mind. I’d be curious to know if I’m just dumb and other people guessed it right away.
As to whether or not it still works, I think so. In my opinion, the film still has a lot going for it leading up to the twist – mainly because there is still that paranormal presence. It’s just that instead of trying to cause harm, the spirit is there for unfinished business, which just so happens to coincide with helping Annie figure out what’s going on.
We get scenes like the one you mentioned with Annie being led knife-first towards a clue. We get disturbing and sudden appearances of ghosts with severed body parts. We get a blind goth psychic (Haley Hudson)! And that make-shift ouija scene near the end is one of my favorite parts. So even if you do know the twist, you can still enjoy the film. I definitely go back to The Pact for rewatches.
One element that struck me is how similar the film is to many of the tropes that we tend to see in J-Horror (and their “less than” American adaptations). Am I crazy?
J-Horror is unfortunately one of my big horror blind spots, so I’m not the best person to ask. Either way, I’m sure you’re not crazy.
Could you tell me some of the tropes to which you’re referring?
It’s primarily the investigation part, when Annie follows a series of ghostly clues (the folded picture; the GPS coordinates) to discover the park, which leads to the church. A lot of J-Horror and East Asian cinema features a search to uncover the secret history behind a haunting and it’s usually tied to familial trauma and repressed crimes.
This is a film about “bad” families (Annie’s mother hid her serial killer brother for years; it is heavily inferred that Annie is a child of incest, and, on a lesser scale, her sister is a recovering addict). I found myself bristling at the “happy” resolution wherein free spirit Annie automatically adopts her niece, Eva (Dakota Bright). As a fellow queer, how do you feel about the film’s message?
That’s actually a fascinating response to the ending that had never occurred to me! A case could definitely be made against that, particularly the way Annie rolls her eyes early on when the “deep bond” between mother and daughter is mentioned.
I just assumed that came from her severely troubled relationship with her own mother. I personally interpreted this resolution as Annie wanting to make different choices than the monster who raised her. She says that her family would always take off when things got rough, so she didn’t want to do the same thing to her niece. I feel like there can be a fierce and unexpected protectiveness that can come from people who have been mistreated towards the innocent. Plus, she’s the last connection she has left to her sister. Even though their relationship wasn’t perfect, she clearly cared about her and feels a responsibility. I’m curious, what ending would you have wanted for Annie?
Lol – well now that I’m put on the spot, I suppose having Annie abandon Eva to foster care is pretty grim. Perhaps in part it doesn’t quite work for me because Eva isn’t really a character; The Pact forgets her once Annie begins her investigation. Considering how much of the film is about inter-generational trauma, I guess I would have liked to see a little more of Eva before a young woman like Annie makes a completely life-altering choice to become her surrogate mother.
There are a few unresolved issues in the plot. Is Annie for sure Charles’ daughter? Does the title refer to the pact between Annie and ghost/victim Jennifer Glick or Annie’s mother and Charles (or both)? Also, where is Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins)’s body?!
Now I know that there’s a sequel, I’m a little less bothered by the loose strings. Have you seen the sequel and, if you have, would you recommend it?
Oh Joe….it’s a doozy (and not in a good way). I’ve done my best to forget that there even IS a sequel. And from what I remember, I don’t think they answer any of your questions.
Oh no! That’s so disappointing!
Well, setting that aside, overall The Pact delivered more surprises than I expected considering that I knew the big twist going in. It also looks shockingly great for what is obviously a low budget feature, including some really great FX. I’m giving this 3.5/5.
Kate, what is your final score (out of 5) and where can people find you if they wanna chat more about the film or your other projects?
Yay, I’m glad you liked it! My final score is a ⅘. Thanks for discussing this with me!
Next time: we’re travelling Down Under, but keeping the family trauma and strange supernatural occurrences, with a first time screening of Next of Kin (1982) on the recommendation of Kill By Kill podcast’s Patrick Hamilton.