First contender: The Conjuring (just released on video). The first hour was genuinely disturbing, and I wouldn't give it one star. But once they started explaining everything with hokey backstory, my chills evaporated.
Second contender: a super-low-budget indie called Resolution about a dude who chains his buddy up in a Cabin in the Woods to force him to shake a meth addiction. The few critics who saw it, liked it. The concept was interesting, but I didn't find it scary for a second and had trouble staying awake.
Luckily, the third time was the charm. Returning to the deep and indiscriminate well of Netflix Instant horror, I discovered The Pact.
What You Missed
Young mom Nichole (Agnes Bruckner) is alone in her childhood home preparing for her mother's funeral. She's Skyping with her kid when something odd happens. "Mommy," the little girl asks, "who's that person behind you?"
The next day, when Nichole's black-sheep sister, Annie (Caity Lotz), enters the unassuming house, she finds lights that dim and buzz and fridges that open by themselves — but no Nichole. After a second mysterious disappearance, Annie seeks help from a police detective (Casper Van Dien). But the problems of the Barlow home — where, it's strongly implied, both sisters were abused — may not be the kind he can solve.
Why You Missed It
According to Box Office Mojo, The Pact was only theatrically released overseas; it hit No. 4 on the UK charts during its 2012 release there.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Two disclaimers: 1. No genre draws more intensely subjective reactions than horror, except perhaps comedy. 2. High expectations are horror's enemy. Hyped movies like The Conjuring almost always scare me less than the obscure surprises.
So maybe The Pact won't bother you in the least. But me? I jumped and actually screamed at a few of the jump scares in this movie, something I haven't done since [REC]. When I finished watching, I picked apart the absurder plot twists, but that didn't stop a few images from haunting my dreams.
Director Nicholas McCarthy knows the rhythms of horror. He uses a lot of the same techniques as James Wan and the various Paranormal Activity directors: following a character from behind so we get a sense of something stalking her; exploiting the liminal zone between dreams and waking; holding the camera on an empty room or hallway till the tension mounts and our eyes start manufacturing monsters.
McCarthy's timing is excellent, and when he finally shows the scary stuff, it is pretty damn scary, unlike the warmed-over occult silliness of the PA movies.
I could complain that Lotz's sulky performance is a little one-note, that Van Dien's character has no reason to exist except to serve as allusion to a certain horror classic, and that the story features clichés, coincidences and implausibilities. All true. Still scary.
Why does the barely-unsettling Paranormal Activity 4 get a huge theatrical release and not The Pact? Brand recognition. Perhaps we can hope better for the upcoming sequel.
Verdict: biggest horror adrenaline rush I've had in a while. If you prefer gore to bumps in the night, though, go for the Evil Dead remake.
This Week in Theaters
Michael Fassbender is The Counselor. (That's actually his character's name on IMDB, 'cause Cormac McCarthy wrote this.) Johnny Knoxville dresses up as a Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. At the Savoy, The Summit is a doc exploring a disastrous K2 climb.
This Week on Video
Before Midnight, The Conjuring, The Internship, The Way, Way Back and future Movie You Missed Only God Forgives.