The best that can be said of The Pact 2 is that its existence might draw the attention of more viewers to The Pact, a superior indie creep-out from 2012 whose creator, the writer/director Nicholas McCarthy, fashioned it according to three inviolable principles. One: Get the heroine (Caity Lotz) into picking-her-way-through-a-haunted-house scenes as often as possible. Two: Make those scenes wickedly tense and immersive, soaking viewers in her terror, syncing up our metabolisms to hers, giving us shadows to search and dark corners to cower from.
And, uh, three: Never let pass an opportunity to leer down her tank top.
The sequel, written and directed by Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath, mostly chucks those rules—for a while, new lead Camilla Luddington gets ghost-harassed in a hoodie. A couple of the set-piece scare sequences are memorable, especially one where Luddington spots a vaguely humanoid shadow in the light cast by a bedside lamp. Curious, she shines the bulb at the wall. Again she sees a stretchy-thin figure of blackness, one that seems to notice her—and is getting larger. June, Luddington's character, runs screaming from her bungalow, a rare and admirable response in this kind of movie, but when she steps outside she's shocked to see that, somehow, she's now wielding a butcher knife.
That incident is a sinister marvel, but most of the rest of the movie doesn't reach its level. This time, a young woman suffers the usual spectral spookery—doors slam shut; occasionally she's tossed about by unseen hands. Her boyfriend is a cop (Scott Michael Foster) who gets pushed around by a prick of an FBI agent (Patrick Fischler) on a crime scene that suggests the serial killer of The Pact is either back at it or has a copycat. That FBI agent warns them that June is likely to be the killer's next target—and, despite having the sense to flee the house from shadows, she keeps right on sleeping in the same bedroom.
The Pact was stupid in the right way: One jolt came from a haunted Google map! Hallam and Horvath never dare anything that inventive, sticking instead with workaday ghost/serial-killer plotting, all of it dumb, too, but never interestingly so. Worse, for all their skill with shambling corpses sneaking up behind beautiful women, the filmmakers can't figure out where to put the camera in those moments when characters are simply talking to each other. Nothing here is more shocking than the abrupt, unmotivated close-ups in mid-conversation. Occasionally, The Pact 2 resorts to reprising footage of its most effective moments in jumble-edited flashes of June's memory. The movie's its own clumsy clip show. Especially weird: that she remembers a beast that we saw but she didn't, one that stalked her while her eyes were closed.
The directors demonstrate confident technique in most of the scare scenes, but their uncertain touch with actors and dialogue makes a cock-up of the climax. In the final moments, Hallam and Horvath set their ghost—whose toolbox seems to hold only the ability to creep up super slowly—loose on a charged confrontation between June, a law enforcement officer, and a serial murderer. The pacing's off, the dialogue flat and flopping, and the poor shirtless ghost slumping up behind Luddington never gets the chance to gather menace—instead, he seems to slow down, wait his turn, let the cast get through its pages.
The Pact, the original, makes this guy (embodied by Mark Steger) seem monstrous, a thoughtless grub-man nightmare hatched in some grim nook of your home you never bothered to clean up. The Pact 2 never lets you forget he's an actor on a set, maybe drinking some tea between shots. He's probably really nice.