Sunday, July 05, 2015

There is No End to the Rabbit Hole with The Pact II: A Movie Review

*full disclosure: a Blu-ray screener of this film was provided by IFC Films.

Directors/writers: Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath.

Cast: Caity Lotz, Camilla Luddington and Scott Michael Foster.

It is strange to see a trailer as part of the film you already possess. It is even stranger to see that trailer mislabelled as The Pact (2012) and not The Pact II. Unfortunately, this is only the first step in a strange viewing experience, involving the Judas Killer. This time, the Judas Killer, who was killed in the first film, has a murderous admirer. More bodies begin to turn up, all around the protagonist, June (Camilla Luddington). But, who is this new killer? There will be many misdirections to lead you down the wrong path and all of the obfuscation grows tired, during a second viewing. A theme of surveillance is touched upon, but there are too many unfleshed and forgotten ideas here. Even the usual horror tropes were not enough to unsettle this viewer.

In the previous film, Annie Barlow (Caity Lotz) killed her father, the Judas Killer. In the second film, this serial killer has had another daughter, by another woman. This time Jenny Glick is the mother. And, the demon spawn is June, who is also the sister of Annie. This dysfunctional family has drawn the attention of another sadistic killer, who likes to murder and leave behind strange drawings: "he showed me the way." These bloodstained words will give viewers a clue to the real killer. But, the film has a lot of wrong paths to go down, before the killer's identity is revealed.

The plot sounds good on paper, alone. In the first film, the Judas Killer was terrifying because he was always so close to his victims. He lay beneath the floorboards or behind a wall and no one knew he was there. This time the killer is right in plain view. The creepy stalking is minimized. Instead of a great stalk or chase sequence or two, much of the violence occurs offscreen, or bloody settings are shown after events. June moves through these settings as a crime scene cleaner. A supernatural element is played with and underdeveloped. An unconscious element, involving the death of another character, is introduced, but it feels unrelated to the occurrences onscreen. Meanwhile, the film is moving towards a weak ending. That ending is further stretched by the likelihood of a second sequel, via an open ending. This viewer has had his fill of the Judas Killer.

Another underdeveloped film element is one on the theme of surveillance. June is being surveilled by another character. She is being stalked. June even senses that she is being watched when she says to an FBI agent: "are you following me?" But, there is more than one character who is watching June. As well, surveillance was an important element in the first film. The Judas Killer did much more watching than killing. He seemed to delight in just creeping up close to his victims. In the second film, the voyeuristic elements are much more benign and disappointing.

It is difficult to follow-up an excellent film with another. The first film was one of this horror fans favourite films, from 2012. The Pact had a a dark moodiness and creepiness that was memorable. The late reveal was also well done. The magic of the first film is partially lost here. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for studios to put less money into a sequel. Though, this title rarely appears cheap (outside of some sound quality issues), it does come across as only partially developed. Script ideas, from a supernatural entity and a cartoonist drawing her own unconscious torments, are interesting; yet, June only solves part of her own disturbing childhood experiences. Horror tropes, including the mirror trick (a character appearing with the closing of a medicine cabinet), are repeated here. Guess what? There is a paranormal entity under a bedsheet. Thanks The Grudge 2 (2006). Only a shadow on an opposing wall, with the words "Upon Reflection," on a poster offer any curiosity. Most scenes do not unravel June's inner torments quite so well. And, The Pact 2 will not make many Best Of lists, for 2015.

The Pact II should not be actively avoided, but it should not be sought out, neither. It does play with misdirection and it does tease a return of the original Judas Killer. It is just that the actual killer is one-dimensional. Hauntings are minimized to a few scenes. Also, the return of Annie Barlow does help increase action elements and pacing. She only appears in the final act, however. June must deal with a few personal issues and she does have a character arc. It would just have been better to have had a few ideas taken to a conclusion. As it is, The Pact II is just another return to the well and this well has mostly dried up.

Overall: 6.5 out of 10.

*there is a continuity error at 25:45, on the Blu-ray version. Who is that sitting behind June?

*viewers might notice that only the copycat killer sees Judas, in the final frames. This shows the character's delusion, more clearly.

A trailer for the film is hosted here:

The Pact II Trailer on 28DLA

Recommended release: The Pact Available through Video-on-demand

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