02/01/2012 04:43 pm ET | Updated Apr 02, 2012

Sundance 2012: The Pact

I've been here before. Not just Sundance, but a midnight screening of a horror movie at the Egyptian. That was almost thirteen years ago to the day, for The Blair Witch Project. At that time, I was here as an actress. Now I'm here as a reporter. It's a lot more fun this way. The Pact, a haunted house midnight movie screening at the Egyptian, is the first film I'm writing about, because I do love to live a good narrative.

The Pact is tight the way a really good band is. There's nothing wasted, nothing unnecessary and all of the elements in play complement each other. And there are a lot of elements in play. Think of every trope in the scary movie lexicon. And now remember to also throw in a ouija board. You forgot about that one? Director/screenwriter Nicholas McCarthy didn't. He didn't forget anything.

The Pact includes: religious iconography, a stultified house, a sexy tough girl protagonist (played with equal parts fragility and ferocity by Caity Lotz), a newly-dead and much-despised mother, a serial killer on the loose, a fragile girlwoman with raccoon eyes who sees dead people, wiry bald men slithering through small spaces, a hot cop who would like to save the day, but instead provides the movie's nod to gore. Check, check, and check. You might think this would make for a succotash of stale. You would be wrong. The Pact takes everything you thought you knew about haunted house movies and upcycles them with a tense, razor-sharp freshness that never stops bringing the screams. And scream the audience did, followed by the delighted laughter that is a horror movie's high five.

What makes The Pact a wonderful piece of filmmaking for any genre is how McCarthy manages tone. The stakes are sky high from the start: A dead mother! A drug addiction! A missing sister! A newly-minted doe-eyed orphan! And from here they continually build, the tension amplified by staying on just the right side of over-the-top. The Pact almost crosses that line when the clairvoyant girl comes in -- almost like the film is daring to the audience to stop suspending disbelief. I wanted to put my cynical hat on, but was instead rewarded with the movie's best boo. Good old-fashioned movie manipulation. Yay! The tonal tightrope walk keeps you on the hook even through the most slyly brilliant product placement ever, which happens amidst the film's climax and involves a refreshing beverage.

Bottom line:

The Pact's genre vocabulary is vast and fluid, held taut by Nicholas McCarthy's masterful sense of tone.

But, really, who cares? The scares are awesome.