Sunday, June 16, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #16: THE PACT (2012)

The Story: A young woman returns home to find her missing sister, and confront her (abusive?) mother's ghost.

Expectations: I didn't know much about this movie going into it, but it had pretty high marks on Netflix and I'm always game for a good ghost story.

Reaction: There are two main reasons why I liked this movie.  #1. The filmmaker understands that a good ghost story depends on nuanced sound design.  Silence and a subtle score are used here to genuinely startling effect.  #2.  The filmmaker understands that it is easier to intrigue the audience with a good mystery than with ghostly visual effects.  This is a classic gothic ghost story, about a restless spirit trying to reveal dark secrets from beyond the grave -- but there is more to this mystery than the ghost.  There's also a flesh and blood serial killer... which leads me to the thing that kept me from loving this movie. 

The revelation of the main character's dark family secret is a truly disturbing moment, but also an unbelievable one.  There has been so much talk about the possibility that insanity that it's difficult to accept what she discovers in the third act as a hard reality.  In fact, when it happened, my wife turned to me and asked: "Is this supposed to be a dream?"  I couldn't answer.  I didn't know.  And yet it doesn't seem to me that the filmmaker intended the viewer to have such doubts.  The film consistently takes for granted that ghosts are real -- not only real, but physically very powerful.  I can accept that as the internal logic of the story, but it's not as easy for me to overlook the absence of logical explanations about the secondary threat.

Because of the apparent inconsistency, the overall effect of this well-crafted thriller was initially diluted for me.  By the time the credits rolled, I was distracted by too much "WTF?".   Reflecting on the film a day later, however, I'm considering things in a slightly different light.  I realize that maybe my expectations -- for a traditional, straightforward ghost story -- skewed my reaction to a more unique film.  My advice: Try watching this as a fairy tale about a broken family with some very real monsters in their closet.  I think that's the level on which THE PACT really works. 

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment
: I know the serial killer should have been the most disturbing thing in the film, but it was the vision of the headless ghost that got me.

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