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'The Pact' as close as you'll come to the perfect scare

Date: 4/11/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

Two recent horror films show that gore doesn't have to be the star.

The Kill List

This highly acclaimed British release builds very slowly and while I wasn't as impressed as some other critics, I do think this is a film well worth watching.

Director and co-writer Ben Wheatley he wrote the film with his wife Amy Jump constructs a film that had me guessing as it could have gone in many directions.

Neil Maskell plays Jay, a former soldier who is now a hit man for hire with his friend Gal. The pair is apparently good at what they do, but something had gone wrong at their last job and Jay is apparently reluctant to take on another assignment.

His wife is concerned about his behavior, which ranges from severe depression to unpredictable rages. She encourages Gal to take on another job so Jay will be forced to overcome the side effects of the last assassination.

The pair is given three people to kill: a Roman Catholic priest, a librarian and a member of Parliament. The murder of the priest goes well, but things start to shift when they discover the second target, the librarian, is involved in some sort of hideous pornography.

We never see it nor does Wheatley actually describe it, to his credit. We only see the hit men's reactions to it and for Jay it is brutal. His rage toward his victim is fueled by the librarian's statements that he knows Jay and understands what he has to do.

Gal has discovered a dossier on him and Jay in the librarian's safe, something that shakes him.

It is here the film turns in directions that have a much more horrific theme.

What hurts this film to a certain degree is the slow set-up. Wheatley spends a lot of time establishing that Jay is pretty much broken.

The director handles the action set pieces well and comes up with a disturbing ending.

Although there are moments of violence, Wheatley is of the school that showing a little as punctuation to this story is the way to go. I congratulate him on that.

Solid performances, an interesting story and an unpredictable last half make "The Kill List" memorable.

The Pact

Now this raised the hairs on the back of my neck on a bright Sunday afternoon and that's saying something!

Director and writer Nicholas McCarthy has constructed a film that should be a textbook example of how to craft a low budget horror movie that stands out from the crowd. If I were still teaching my film classes at Western New England University, this would be on the schedule to view.

Caity Lotz is Annie, a young woman who really doesn't want to go back to her childhood home for her mother's funeral. She does so only because her sister Liz, who did return, goes missing in the house.

Another disappearance happens when Annie is there. Her cousin, who was caring for Liz's daughter, also vanishes. When Annie sees something she can't explain, she takes her niece and leaves for the police station.

A sympathetic cop tries to help her, but clearly there is something happening at the house that is beyond his abilities. When Annie goes back to the home, an unseen entity literally throws her around, perilously close to a closet door that seems to open on its own after each of the disappearances.

This film plays as some sort of entry in the "Paranormal" series at first, but quickly takes a different path that is very rewarding story-wide.

Lotz basically carries the film and does a great job as the rebellious Annie who becomes dedicated to finding her sister and cousin and understanding what is happening at the house.

The house, with its carefully designed 1960s and 1970s kitschy look, becomes a character itself.

The film only falters at the very last scene, which is an unnecessary attempt for one final shock. There is no logic in the scene and frankly ought to be cut out.

That's a minor complaint, though, as this film is a damn near perfect scare.