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Make a pact to see this

A DECENT horror film is always welcome, especially during blockbuster season when the major companies swamp the multiplexes with all manner of gimmicky geegaws, and the debut feature from Nicholas McCarthy, while not a masterpiece, manages to tick enough boxes to keep fans of the genre happy.

Adapted and expanded from his own short film, McCarthy's first coup with 'The Pact' is in his choice of location, a nondescript one-storey house in an equally nondescript suburban neighbourhood in the greater Los Angeles area. This is no crumbling Gothic mansion or an isolated pile in the woods miles from a main road and with no phone signal, rather a mundane modern dwelling where you'd imagine the protagonists could simply stroll out the front door and leave whatever has been tormenting them behind them. But then that wouldn't make for a good horror movie, now would it?

The film sets its stall out early and cleverly, with recovering drug addict Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) about to oversee the funeral of her mother and clearly uneasy about being in the family home. Her younger sister Annie (Caity Lotz) is reluctant to attend the removal, stating, "I'm not going back to that house" over the phone before Nicole contacts her young daughter via Skype and McCarthy delivers the first of a series of well-worked and nicely timed shocks.

Following Nicole's disappearance, Annie becomes the reluctant heroine of the piece, trying to discover what became of her sister and attempting to make sense of the increasingly bizarre events in the house.

Lotz does a fine job in the central role, conveying the required sense of determination and vulnerability while Casper Van Diem provides solid support as a detective who becomes obsessed with the case. When The Pact is on its game, it manages to keep the audience on its toes while still slightly bending the conventions of the genre and in a season of noisy nonsense, that's definitely to be applauded. Rating : HHHII

RED TAILS War. Starring Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Tristan Wilds, Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard. Directed by Anthony Hemingway. Cert 12A

Based on the true story of the Tuskegee airmen, an all-black fighter squadron formed during World War Two, this had the potential to be an interesting and involving tale of heroism in the face of prejudice and adversity.

But, alas, despite excellent production values, it fundamentally fails to get off the ground.

Part of the problem with Red Tails is the involvement of executive producer George Lucas, who can't seem to shake off the appallingly infantile approach he brought to the dreadful Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Just as in those unspeakable films, the characters here are reduced to cliched ciphers, to the extent that one feels sorry for the fine collection of actors who have to spout lines so hackneyed they'd fit quite easily into a spoof of WW2 movies.

Admittedly, there are some excellent aerial sequences.

But when you have a villainous German fighter ace coming out with dialogue like, "Die! You foolish African!" you begin to wonder whether the scriptwriters weren't simply lifting whole chunks from yellowing copies of The Victor. Rating : HHIII

CASA DE MI PADRE Comedy. Starring Will Ferrell, Gael Garcia Bernal, Dieho Luna, Genesis Rodriguez. Directed by Matt Piedmont. Cert 15A

A spooF of Mexican tele-novelas -- highly charged soap melodramas which make Fair City look like Beckett -- might have made for a reasonable run of two-minute sketches in the course of a weekly comedy show, but stretched to an 85-minute feature? In Spanish? Not even the presence of Will Ferrell, a man truly possessed of funny bones, can lift the cloud of self-indulgence which shrouds this project.

The story, such as it is, revolves around the idiot son (Ferrell) of a rancher who fades in the shadow of his younger brother (Diego Luna) and falls foul of a local drug baron (Gael Garcia Bernal).

The attempts at humour are pathetic, with the use of wobbly sets and deliberate overacting making the whole enterprise seem rather desperate, that description also applying in the Dublinese use of the term. Avoid. Rating : HHIII

A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING Comedy? Starring Simon Pegg, Amara Karan, Paul Freeman, Clare Higgins. Directed by Crispian Mills and Chris Hopewell. Cert 15A

Dear God, what have movie-goers done to deserve the majority of this week's releases? The Will Ferrell fiasco is bad enough but this debut feature from writer/director Crispian Mills (yep, the bloke who used to be the lead singer in Kula Shaker) is self-indulgent beyond belief.

Simon Pegg plays Jack, a neurotic author of children's books who's consumed by fear as he plans a new book about Victorian serial killers. Pegg manages to keep things focused somewhat for the first 20 minutes or so until the sheer stupidity of the plot -- revolving around a trip to a launderette, I kid you not -- makes for a painful, wearying and woefully unfunny final hour. A clear candidate for Worst Film of the Year. Rating : HIIII