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Movie Review: The Pact

By Mike Everleth ⋅ February 15, 2011

Actress Jewel Statie as a suburban mom in The Pact

All houses are haunted. Haunted by the memories of those who lived in them. Whether or not those memories can have physical manifestations is up for debate.

In Nicholas McCarthy‘s moody The Pact, Anna (Jewel Staite) and Adrian (Sam Ball) are tasked with getting their recently deceased mother’s affairs in order. Anna, the more committed of the two, desperately pours through her mom’s papers looking for proof of her estate while Adrian picks through cardboard boxes stuffed with old toys.

Neither of them had much love for their mother. They also seem fairly distant from each other, the way children from abusive homes act towards each other long after their tormenting has ended.

There’s some vague, touching nostalgia as Adrian tries to conjure up good memories around a teddy bear, but Anna is completely focused on her work, on sorting out the details so both of them can finally move on with their lives.

Staite and Ball are excellent at conveying the overwhelming weariness that has consumed these two characters. Other than that feeling of beaten-down-ness, neither express much emotion to each other, opting to discuss anything rather than what they are truly feeling about this place they’d rather not be.

Adrian tries to broach the subject of their childhood in roundabout ways, but Anna refuses to play along. Instead of confronting his sister about her state of denial, Adrian eventually — and casually — brings up the enormous abuse they suffered at their mother’s hands. And, again, Anna feigns denial and quickly changes topics.

McCarthy’s writing and direction is a light dance around a heavy subject. From the beginning we understand that there’s something not quite right about these people we are watching. The characters’ verbal skipping around what’s most likely the foremost thoughts in their minds is the way McCarthy the storyteller swirls us into lives. We need their distracting conversations first so that we get a good grip on who they are as individuals. We get a full sense of their lives even with spending such little time with them.

But, like in his previous short film Chinese Box, McCarthy deals with subjects that dangle outside the actual reach of the film and the audience’s understanding. His movies not about what we’re watching unfold on screen, but are about the unspoken emotional course his characters are navigating.

At first, though, we believe that course is between Anna and Adrian. There is a tension that we hope these two characters will break through the emotional wall they’ve built up, so that they can have a satisfying sibling relationship.

However, halfway through the film, Anna is left by herself and we finally realize that the only one who has put up a wall is her. While her brother couldn’t poke his way through it, someone, or something, else is going to give it a harder try.

There is a supernatural component to the film, which follows rules that should make fans of the SyFy TV series Ghost Hunters smile with recognition. Although, those looking for a traditional ghost story might not get what they’d typically be expecting.

McCarthy doesn’t dole out his unearthly concepts and happenings as a means to fulfill an audience’s satisfaction. Those details are there enough to pique our curiosity and to make them seem at least plausible in the world that he creates. But, it’s more important for his characters to believe in the otherworldly so that they can be healed by those forces.

Anna must go on a very personal journey to reconcile with her past so that she can move forward as a mother herself. Most of that journey exists outside the confines of the film’s actual running time, but the section of Anna’s life that McCarthy does let us in on is captivating, moving and … haunting.