Like its predecessor, The Pact II is a pseudo-contemporary riff on the vintage haunted-house films that followed women as they wandered the corridors of expansive gothic hell holes. “Pseudo-contemporary” because the heart of this series, like that of so many modern horror films, really belongs to the 1970s. The house here abounds in the usual appealingly archaic touches: stairwells with elaborate wooden bannisters; intricately carved frames on unmistakably wide doors; faded, earthy yellow and brown paint on the walls and, especially, a large walk-in attic that’s ideal for cryptic impromptu séances. Lest we miss the point, there are also record players, antique lamps, and ancient lockboxes full of forbidden truths that appear to eagerly anticipate unearthing by an ever-curious and beleaguered heroine.
Said heroine is The Pact II’s greatest asset. As June Abbott, a young woman connected to the murders of the first film for surprisingly elaborate reasons that don’t bear repeating, Camilla Luddington exudes a becoming sense of authority; she refuses to predictably foreground her character’s escalating fear, allowing us instead to see that fear as being at war with her inquisitive intelligence. Luddington is also a beautiful woman, which is pivotal to a film that spends much of its 97 minutes surveying her curves as she wanders her home perpetually clad in tank top and tight jeans. Yet, directors Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath regard Luddington respectfully; their camera appreciating her beauty rather than reducing it to a set of disconnected doll parts. In this fashion, The Pact II encouragingly recalls the inclusive sense of empathetic sexual courtliness that characterized Mario Bava’s early films, as well as Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, reminding us that a horror movie can revel in a woman’s body without making a piggish spectacle of itself.
The film is likably low-key. Unlike James Wan’s obnoxiously ostentatious horror bonanzas or their similarly inclined ilk, The Pact II isn’t terrified of slightness or suggestiveness, though the downside is that it’s authentically slight. There never seems to be much at stake, perhaps because the directors’ slow-burn, long pan-informed stratagem is identical to The Pact’s, though Hallam and Horvath do a shrewd and respectable job, for a surprisingly long while, of hiding the fact that they’ve essentially staged a remake of the first film. Though one often shudders to suggest this, considering the generally truthful less-is-much-more dictum of haunted-house movies, it might be time for The Pact to dish out just a teensy bit more mythology (after two entries, the meaning of the title, for instance, is still murky), or, offer some other twist or variation on the trope of people wandering creaky hallways rich in foreboding portent. This series is beginning to resemble a home-improvement show for the dead.