Damian McCarthy’s feature debut Caveat is a claustrophobic success that knows precisely what to do to creep you out. A smartly written and directed film that provides the audience with an exciting new voice.
Lone drifter Isaac (Jonathan French) accepts a job to look after his landlord’s niece, Olga (Leila Sykes), for a few days in an isolated house on a remote island. It seems like easy money, but there’s a catch: he must wear a leather harness and chain that restricts his movements to certain rooms. Once Olga’s uncle, Barrett (Ben Caplan), leaves the two of them alone, a game of cat and mouse ensues. Olga displays increasingly erratic behaviour as a trapped Isaac makes a series of horrific discoveries in the house.
McCarthy has created an interesting vision and should nail home how the horror genre is currently the best at getting original stories told. Here in Caveat, other than the odd plot point, the storytelling is pitch-perfect. At every turn, we become increasingly intrigued by the atmospheric world that he has set up with these characters on this tiny isolated island.
With few answers throughout Caveat, it is a film that likes to keep its cards close to its chest, and as such, we never quite know which way the film is going to go. Being left in the dark is such a refreshing experience as often you can guess where a movie will go. With the use of a well-trodden narrative trope instead of providing us everything on one large lump, it is teased and eased in very well.
Kieran Fitzgerald’s camera is stuck in a murky brown hue as it feels as if we are already deep in the dirt and the grave. Be it the house or the surrounding area’s this is a film that knows exactly the tone that it wants to present, and while it is styled well, it is a film location that has us wishing we never encounter in real life. Even when we are away from the house, the film constantly feels as if we are submerged somewhere, as if the entire movie isn’t real, an ever-present grungy purgatory.
The production design in Caveat is of a top-level from Damian Draven and set builder Fintan Collins. You feel that the house is in a constant state of collapse and that it is a near miracle that the house is still standing, just exceptional work all around. Helping to accentuate this creepy location is the excellent use of lighting. Often it is as natural as it can provide with torches being used to assist with trying to scare the life out of the audience. The pauses of the camera throughout allow for the audience to try to look around the screen. Desperate to find it before the characters do, to ease our minds. It is such a nice and simple touch, not to just scare us at all times. Caveat is a film that knows exactly how to build its atmosphere.
The one awkward problem with Caveat is that Isaac accepts £1000 to be put into that situation in no world, nor would anyone else with half a brain, either if we are truly honest with ourselves. Harnessed up to a chain that limits where you can go? Nah, I’m good thanks, get me back on that boat and off home, please. This is amplified more after seeing the state of the living conditions that Olga is living in. Yet this is the situation and world we are presented with, and as such, we have to assume how desperate for money Isaac is to take on such a role, as fantastical as it may be.
For as good as everything is in Caveat, the sound department wonders here, whether it is the sound of the foxes crying in the distance or the sounds of that damn chain moving about the house. We are in a constant state of dread as the film builds and builds until everything goes as wrong as it can for Olga and Isaac.
Overall, this movie does an awful lot right and stretches that budget as far as it can go by throwing so much into the production design. When you feel as if you are in the location with the characters and that location is terrifyingly haunting, then you have an effective film that wants to take its time in creeping you out. Caveat is an unnerving film that delivers.
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