Friday, July 10, 2015

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE PACT II (2014) and INFINI (2015)

(US - 2014)

Nicholas McCarthy's THE PACT (2012) was given a completely under-the-radar VOD release and later quietly appeared on Netflix streaming where it became a legitimate word-of-mouth cult horror hit. One of the scariest films of the last decade and a reference point for slow-burn horror done right, THE PACT should've been huge, especially considering the junk that gets national theatrical exposure these days (what do you think will have a longer shelf life with fans, THE PACT or the POLTERGEIST remake?). Unfortunately, even low-budget, stand-alone horror films that become word-of-mouth Netflix sensations aren't immune from spawning superfluous sequels, and so we have THE PACT II. McCarthy is only onboard as a producer, with writing and directing tasks handed off to the team of Dallas Hallam & Patrick Horvath, the duo behind another impressive slow-burn horror gem, ENTRANCE (2012). THE PACT II centers on June (Camilla Luddington of GREY'S ANATOMY), an aspiring artist who works as a crime scene cleaner. June lives with her cop boyfriend Daniel (Scott Michael Foster) and is soon being hassled by Ballard (Patrick Fischler), an abrasive, dweeby FBI profiler who thinks she knows something about a spate of murders with an M.O. resembling that of the Judas Killer (Mark Steger), the serial killer offed at the end of THE PACT by heroine Annie (Caity Lotz). As with Annie, June starts getting paranormal warnings that danger is near, and soon, her recovering addict mother (Amy Pietz) is killed and Ballard informs her that she in fact has a very close connection to the Judas Killer, who may not be dead after all.

McCarthy left the door open for a sequel at the conclusion of THE PACT, but that didn't mean one was necessary or that he even planned on one. Though Hallam and Horvath utilize a lot of the style and ambient sounds of ENTRANCE for THE PACT II and briefly bring back Lotz (absolutely terrific in the first film) and Haley Hudson (as the oddball and now blind psychic Stevie) to establish bona fides for die-hard PACT fans, they still can't avoid the pitfalls of the most insidious paranormal activity fodder: just because it's a low-budget, navel-gazing, mumblecore slow-burner doesn't make the cliches of slamming doors, bodies being dragged down hallways by unseen spirits, and pointless jump scares accompanied by piercing music cues any less tiresome. Though lightning doesn't strike twice, THE PACT II is functional and perfectly watchable, and there's nothing really wrong with it (other than the twist ending being visible from pretty early on), but it doesn't build on anything in its predecessor and can't help but pale in comparison and exist in its shadow. Luddington is fine as the heroine, but when Lotz finally shows up around 50 minutes in for her "Charlton Heston-in-BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES" extended cameo, you just wish she was in it more. Of course, at the end, all signs point to THE PACT III. (Unrated, 96 mins)

(Australia - 2015)

To its credit, the Australian sci-fi thriller INFINI goes extremely light on the CGI and is boldly old school in its reliance on detailed sets, production design, and in-camera visual effects that provide its world with a much more organic and tangible feel than actors simply standing in front of an obvious greenscreen. As a result, INFINI's look is more impressive than films with several times the budget, and it really makes you want to like it. That's what might've caused some film festival attendees to oversell its worth, because once you look past the cosmetics, it's an incoherent disaster and the dullest space movie this side of 1987's NIGHTFLYERS. Writer/director Shane Abbess (GABRIEL) wears his influences on his sleeve, and there's so many of them that it's hard to gauge exactly what it is he's hoping to accomplish with INFINI. It's mostly a mix of OUTLAND, EVENT HORIZON, SUNSHINE, and PANDORUM (remember PANDORUM? How has that not spawned a DTV franchise by now?) set in a poverty-stricken 23rd century where those desperate for employment do grunt mining and repair work on the outer edges of the galaxy. Such travel is possible thanks to a technology known as "slipstreaming." This involves an "Apex device" being wired into someone's central nervous system, allowing flesh and matter to be converted into a digital file and essentially downloaded to its destination. It's not perfect--glitches in the transport system have been known to cause "file corruption," where people are converted back to flesh form during the slipstream home and emerge disintegrating and vomiting blood before dying. It's a risk the downtrodden and desperate are willing to take and it's a fascinating set-up that's far more interesting than the boring film that ultimately unfolds.

Infini is the most distant mining outpost in the galaxy, and one man, Whit Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson), has been left behind after a bacterial outbreak claimed his co-workers and the first rescue team sent after him. Another crew is sent and something seems off with Whit, prompting some concern that he's been exposed to the contagion. From then on, it's anyone's guess, as multiple plot lines ensue, there's dead bodies everywhere, dead skin masks hanging in what looks like space abattoir, and you're never sure what's "real" in the film and what isn't. Abbess goes for some Christopher Nolan mindfuckery but it seems like he's in over his head and never pulls the storylines together. Most of the film is Whit twitching, staring, and getting into grating, endless shouting matches with everyone. No one in the cast really stands out (Luke Hemsworth--Chris and Liam's older brother who stayed home in Australia and somehow hasn't been forced on the American moviegoing public--is third-billed in a supporting role as one of the rescue team, and he's as magnetic as you might expect), no one sounds Australian--most are using American accents but a couple are clearly dubbed. and MacPherson, a ubiquitous TV celebrity down under and best known as the host of Australia's version of DANCING WITH THE STARS, is a boring lead. A complete waste of an interesting set-up and the work of some obviously dedicated craftspeople on the crew, INFINI unfortunately belongs with STRANDED and THE LAST DAYS ON MARS on the recent outer space cinema scrap heap, banished to the outer reaches of your Netflix queue. (R, 111 mins)

1 comment:

  1. I was hoping THE PACT II would have been worth the time, but then how do you follow up such a magnificent sleeper as the original? Caity Lotz really was a superb leading lady, and of course made such a strong impression on "Mad Men" (she figures very importantly into the series finale).