Expanding its release today is Nicholas McCarthy’s spooky little horror film The Pact, which was previously reviewed here on CraveOnline. Mr. McCarthy will also be appearing in person at the 8:30pm screening of The Pact at the IFC Center in New York City (which is located at 232 6th Ave. at W. 3rd St. for any interested locals). He will be eager to answer any and all questions you may have about his film.
McCarthy gave us the courtesy of having a brief chat about The Pact, its feminist leanings (if any), the spookiness of the film’s urban location, and how it all boils down to the way we tell ghost stories.He also dove in himself, asking us a question…
Nicholas McCarthy: Where in L.A. are you?
CraveOnline: I’m in West L.A. I’m actually close to Culver City where, from what I understand, much of The Pact was filmed.
Yeah. It was in, uh, someplace nearby to that. Playa Vista? Or Playa del Rey? Is that right next to Culver City? Well, we had a bunch of locations around the area, and that house was kind of adjacent to Culver City. The whole movie was pretty much shot in L.A. We shot there, so yeah.
The house in The Pact is really kind of a character unto itself. Could you tell me a little about it?
Yeah, well we really liked using this house, which we used in the short film of The Pact [made in 2011]… and I didn’t know exactly where I was gonna shoot [the feature]… I decided to use the same house, it was the house where… well, this woman lived in the house for a while. I wanted to have that production design, since we made the short for no money. So we actually shot the short film in this house where this woman had, uh, passed away. And it was still full of all her stuff. It had a kind of 1970s shag carpet floor. Which is frightening! And, uh, [in such an environment] I was able to say something about childhood, and [tap into] that kind of childhood and style of a lot of people of my generation, who saw that kind of stuff growing up. So when it came time to do the feature, that house was an abandoned house. It was going to be torn down. Which we found in Culver City. We went in and we decorated it top to bottom. Got the walls and the closets. And eventually kind of replicated the original house that we shot the short in. The inspiration. The design inspiration. It was a lot of fun. Like all the wallpaper. You were in that house. It’s like you kind of grew up in that house.
What were the significant differences between the feature and the original short?
I think the short film is available online. The short was kind of more of a character study. And it was kind of inspired by the way people told ghost stories, y’know? Versus the ghost stories you more often see on film. It was usual to the way my previous films were. But when it came time to make a feature, it was… not a huge process. I just kind of riffed on what some of the core ideas were from the short film. And I write a feature with some of those same images and ideas. But I kind of changed the feature into the kind of movie I wanted to see when I was 15 years old. As opposed to the short film what was kind of more of a brooding art piece.
I had the opportunity to interview Casper Van Dien, and I noticed he was the only male character in the film who wasn’t a criminal or a monster of some kind…
I was wondering if you consider The Pact, what with its strong female leads, to be a feminist film.
[chuckle] Well, I wouldn’t call it that. I’m not sure. I think the film is definitely female-centric. But that wasn’t a conscious choice. I, uh, kind of wrote multiple parts to be figured out later. But, a couple things: The movie is about a woman struggling to become an adult. And I really wanted that to be dramatic. And make it an emotional fight as a well as a physical one. And it made sense for that character to be a female, because women are the hardest fighters. Both emotionally, and, I think, physically. And all the best horror movies are told from the women’s perspective. And, from what I understand, and what I’ve been told, women – especially young women – drive the process of the genre. So there’s something about young women that really was important. [laugh]
Was this something you discussed with Caity Lotz and Agnes Bruckner, the lead actresses?
No. It wasn’t. I guess what it came down to was all of us telling stories. Actors and actresses… you can talk about the story, what you kind of what the overall feel of the film to be, but that’s not really their concern. Y’know? Their concern is to how their character is feeling at that one moment. Y’know, it’s not right for a director to say “Now what I’m really getting at here is the whole history of the…” It’s more like “Walk over to that point at that time, and when I snap my fingers – we’ll cut it into the soundtrack – that’s when you hear a noise and turn around.” That’s the kind of direction I would give.
The Pact takes place in an urban setting. A lot of the themes and locales are around urban L.A. Most haunted house pictures that I’ve seen seem to take place in remote mansions in the countryside. Was there something that drew you into the urban milieu?
Well, I think in some ways – though I respect the position of setting a haunted house movie in what one typically thinks of as a “haunted house,” you know your mind’s eye – it’s just a tradition. And traditions are meant to be snapped in half and ground up. Often haunted house films will be in, like you said, a fantastical place… It’s my personal taste, but I think we did that. Yeah. This was a movie that was meant to be very intimate. It was going to be about one character, not talking, in one place. So I think it had to feel like someplace where you could draw a line between the urban and the fantastical. When we found the original house it wasn’t the kind of place you wouldn’t expect to be haunted. Except for in the movies that were made when they didn’t have any money, and they couldn’t shoot anywhere else. There was something interesting about her [Lotz’s] character, her and our current generation of actors. And that was sort of our collective memories of the time. So that was a cool, cool … [missing].
If you’ve seen the original The Grudge. I’ll never forget the first time I saw that. It was a made-for-television movie. When I saw that – even though I had never been to Tokyo, and I had never been to Japan – it was a ghost story that was incredibly calm and looked at regular things you did during the day. And that really kind of blew me away. And I think it’s still something that could be mine. That was the kind of cinematic friction I was going for.
What was the first record you bought with your own money?
I think it was the first Boston album. The one with “More than a Feeling” on it. [laugh] That’s a good question.