Caveat - Caveat (Blu Ray) [Acorn Media International - 2022]
Caveat is a British horror thriller that's knee-deep in unease and shadowy dread. It’s set in a rundown and isolated house where a man takes on a job looking after a distributed woman, and things unfold in a decidedly creepy and at points lightly plot-twisting manner. Here from Acorn Media International is a Blu Ray release of the film, with the disc featuring two commentary tracks.
Caveat is a 2020 film, which was written and directed by Damian Mc Carthy- this is his first feature-length film after helming six shorts, which started off with 2009 Hatch- which found a man laying an egg in the bath, then he takes it to a bar where it begins to behave strangely. For the most part, Caveat is an impressive debut film, high and persistent with a very tangible air of unease. Sure, there are some slight pacing issues here & there, with a few of the plot points being a bit of a stretch, but Mc Carthy really does create a very tangible feeling of dread and fear.
After an eerier pre-credits scene that finds a woman walking around a night-time house with an old beating drum bunny toy, we get to meet the first two key members of the small cast- haggard and big bearded Issac (Jonathan French), and rather shifty Moe(Ben Caplan). Moe is offering £200.00 a day to Issac to look after his twenty-something niece for five days- she is mentally troubled and lives in an isolated house. The pair arrive at the shore of a body of water, Moe informs Issac the house is located on a small island offshore- and he’s none too pleased about this, but still goes along with it. When they get to the house after a short rowboat trip, Issac is even less pleased- as Moe informs him, that he’ll have to wear a chained and padlocked leather and harnessed coat- as his niece Olga (Leila Sykes) is fearful of men coming into her room at night.
Moe leaves Issac in the house- and it’s fair to say it’s a damn creepy place- it’s pale walls are stained and discoloured, with bare floorboards and shadowy run-down interior. Though out the house is an old intercom system, which sometimes lets out strange noises and odd voices. To start with Olga stays in her bedroom, more often than not with her hands over her face. As the film unfolds, he moves around the house the best he can, and with this, we get this very well-crafted feeling of creepy ‘n’ crawling dread- this is nicely enhanced by the grimly droning and bleak drifting dark ambient score. Caveat is very much a film that needs to be watched fairly blind, with little or no plot outline above what I’ve mentioned already.
The very small cast is good and well placed, French is both haunted and lightly troubled as Issac. Caplan is shifty and decidedly slimy as Moe, and Sykes is subdued but effective as the unwell Olga. But the real star here is the house, and the way Mc Carthy skilful pulls out feelings of unease and dread from the place, with the first three quarters been filmed in shadowy to bare bulb light, and the last quarter largely taking place in the dark with fleeting and dull touch light appearing ever so often. I guess you could say this film feels like a dank and dusty anglicised retake on creepy J-horror, with the feeling of fear and building terror staying fairly present throughout the film's length.
There are a small few issues/ problems with the film- firstly some of the asks and plot points feel rather unbelievable, and towards the middle of the film we get slight moments of plot lull. But if you can go into the film suspended you believe a little and be ready for a slow-but-moody plod of a film, with some very effective moments of goosebump-inducing fear and unease- then Caveat is for you.
On the extras front, we get two commentary tracks- ones with director/ writer Damian Mc Carthy, and the other is with the film's editor. I played the first one, and this is a good down to earth and honest director's track that gives you a great insight into the films making. He starts off by discussing that he was thirty-four when he started making the film, and how it took a few years to finish. He comments on the pre-title’s scene, explaining how the bunny prop worked and who designed it. He mentions that his day job is working in the construction/ electrical trade, and how this has seeped through into the film. He discusses the film's locations near Cork, he talks about that the film was originally going to be called Harness. He discusses the casting & how this came about. Later on, he talks about cutting down some of the film's longer dialogue scenes, issues with the crossbow that turns up later in the film. He chats about the influences on the film Blue Rune, John Carpenter's The Thing, etc. He discusses the difficulties of editing the film, and much more. A very worth a play track.
Caveat is certainly at the more dread-filled and unease end of the horror-thriller genre, and there is no doubt there are some really unsettling and downright chilling moments within it. I very much look forward to seeing what director/ writer Damian Mc Carthy does next. Darren Charles