JULY 15, 2012
Since my dream is to someday just retire and program double features at the New Beverly as often as they'd let me, it's fun to sometimes think of what would make a good pair with certain intriguing horror movies that I see. While some movies lend themselves nicely to a variety of double ups (Halloween with Trick R' Treat, another Carpenter film, one of the sequels, even the remake might be interesting), others seem a bit tricky - such as Absentia, a really great little indie that didn't hand hold with its answers and combined supernatural and real world terrors with equal success. Well, if I ever get to program it for a double feature, I would certainly consider The Pact to be its mate.
The movie starts off with a great little teaser - Agnes Bruckner (a horror vet) has arrived at her childhood home after the death of her mother, seemingly with the intent of settling her affairs and prepping the house to be sold. After a few typical spook scares, she opens the door to a closet after hearing a noise... and promptly disappears. Sorry for spoiling it, but it's the most effective "kill off the name" of its type since the original Scream, because this is a low budget horror film, the sort of thing Bruckner stars in often enough to feel assured that she's going to be the lead (the movie has no opening credits at all, and I didn't look at the poster), especially when they set up her conflict with her sister - any dyed in the wool movie fan would assume that their antagonism would be explored and healed via the events of the film.
Said sister is actually the film's lead, and she's played by the very lovely and down to earth Caity Lotz, who arrives shortly after and spends the movie trying to find out what happened to her sister. Buried family secrets surface courtesy of a ghost who seems to be trying to help her, and while not all of the pieces are explained satisfactorily (a major one seems entirely up for debate), it all adds up to a surprisingly effective slow burn that satisfies under both its genres. The ghost stuff yields the "ooh, creepy" moments you want (there's a great one involving a camera on the floor), plus what I think is the first makeshift Ouija board sequence I've seen since beginning HMAD (she makes it on the floor with a Sharpie!).
And then there's the serial killer elements, which are mostly confined to the third act, but if you go back and watch the film a second time (or just think about it real hard, like I have to) you'll realize that there was actually a lot to it that you were probably attributing to the ghost. It's a tough balancing act, and it might not completely hold up to scrutiny, but writer/director Nicholas McCarthy (expanding from a short film version which I could only find a trailer for online - anyone know where I can see the whole thing?) should be commended on holding back until the best possible moment. Without spoiling anything, the moment you realize that there's a flesh and blood presence to contend with is one of the best shock scares in recent memory.
McCarthy should also be commended on what I have to believe is a little nod to Halloween, as there's a scene where our heroine, trapped in a closet, fends off an attacker with a bent wire hanger and then his own knife, much like Laurie Strode did during one of her many attempts to kill the Shape in the original classic. But for all I know it might be a coincidence, as it's otherwise remarkably UN-horror like in its approach. The aspect ratio appears to be closer to 1.66:1 than anything else, and there's very few nighttime scenes - even the climax seems to be occurring around 4 in the afternoon, and most of the film seems to be shot with available light coming in through the windows.
Sometimes the movie's ambiguity can be a bit frustrating, however. All of a sudden, Lotz goes to see a psychic girl she knew in high school, information that just comes out of nowhere as if it were a natural thing - it seemed like the sort of thing that should have been at least hinted at before it became part of the plot. Bruckner's daughter also disappears for most of the movie without much information as to where she is or who's taking care of her, and there are some unexplained points about the serial killer (named Judas, even that isn't clarified) that might have been helpful. That said, it doesn't seem like the movie was edited down or anything - the pacing is spot on for this sort of movie, and it all flows well. It's more like McCarthy never had this stuff in the script at all. Maybe the eventual DVD release will prove me wrong.
Being a limited release, most of you probably don't even have the option of seeing it theatrically, but since it's from IFC I'm sure there's some sort of OnDemand option soon if not already. And since 90% of it takes place in a typical California suburban home, it might be just as if not more effective on your couch anyway. Just shut off the usual distractions and enjoy the low key but mostly successful chills it offers. And then watch Absentia!
What say you?