Recently discharged from the hospital after an experience with a nasty fall, Isaac suffers from severe memory loss. In need of money, he reluctantly accepts a caretaker job from his landlord Barrett who hires him to oversee a traumatized and catatonic spell-ridden niece Olga living in a ramshackle island house. When Isaac arrives for his five day, $200 per night stay, he’s convinced by Barret to wear a chained harness that limits his access to certain rooms of the house. Before long, on the very first night, memories of his past begin to flood back when Olga tells him he’s been at this house before, cascading an overwhelming sense of danger over him when the thought of Olga and Barret scheming together at his expense. As past contracts boil to the surface and the fight for survival extends into the next day, a long thought vanished player lies and waits for the perfect opportunity to resurrect.
If offered to be the sole caretaker of an unstable teenager four five days the suicidal death of her father and the disappearance of her crazy mother, located on isolated island surrounded by a deep lake only traversable by rowboat, strapped inside a chest harness with a long chain stretching into the basement where its tethered, having brought no food or clothing, and the house is a complete rundown disaster filled with austere essentials and a filthy, menacing rabbit toy that rap-a-tats on a drum when the air is thick of a supernatural presence, would you take the job? If the answer is yes, then Damian McCarthy’s “Caveat” is the right film for you and you also might want to see a psychotherapist, immediately. McCarthy debut feature film directorial, as well as the writer is, a supernatural-psychological thriller of existential context about who we really are as a person. The UK film is released as the first production by the independent filmmaking studio HyneSight Fims, produced by Justin Hyne, and credits executive producers in Tom Black and Mirella Reznic.
A person would have to be out of their right mind to agree to every single warning flag about this situational premise. In fact, Isaac, a character recovering from head trauma that resulted in short term memory loss, would seem to be the ideal candidate. Irish actor Jonathan French plays the scruffy-looking Isaac and with little backstory to go upon first meet, we’re stuck with French’s face splayed stuck lost and confused for most of the duration that’s a simultaneous ride for the audience who jump right into first talks of caretaking agreement without living, experience, and visualizing much of anything else before then but in the first instance meeting the man with a radical beard, Isaac is obviously not a long-shore fisherman and is also seems to be mindfully altogether and rational, if not very acute, about with what’s happening around him. French doesn’t play a brain damaged invalid; instead, Isaac goes reluctantly with the flow as a rather poorly written gawk who thinks giving into another man’s intention of being strapped into a S&M vest is okay and left to rightfully care for a more true-to-form mental case on any level. The further the introduction is into Isaac’s odd assignment, the more we wonder why the hell isn’t he about facing and running across that barrier lake like Christ himself. That other man is Moe Barrett (Ben Caplan, “Band of Brothers“) who also strolls onto the scene in the beginnings of conversing with Isaac as if old pals and though Caplan is very good at Barrett’s normal and persuasive spiels without a hint of abhorrent creepiness behavior, Isaac’s so gullible to a fault that it kills that need for deliverance from protagonists to try their best to avoid an unfavorable situation when they see one. Leila Sykes fills out the main trio as Olga, the on-and-off catatonic teenage niece of Barrett. Again, something’s missing from the character development much in the same way as Isaac. Olga’s just living, if you can call it that, out of her absent parents’ house. Each one of these characters feels abstract, much like the narrative’s story and structure, to offer only incremental oddities one grain at a time to be not too invested in whatever else that might distract from “Caveat’s” mystery.
“Caveat,” by the way, is a warning and is the catch that makes Barrett’s deal of $200 per day for five days to watch over his nice seem too good to be true and, honestly, the rabbit hole Isaac doesn’t heed and scuttles down into as being the loose end saw tied up by a transgressor’s flimsy, kooky plan would have been enough to suffice. McCarthy adds another element to the already rough patch of this malicious thriller with an unnecessary, but highly effective, supernatural elements involving a menacing in appearance, drum-rapping, toy rabbit (or is it a hare?) that acts like a bizarro-Toys’R’Us PKE meter and a smiling dead body that has its grand jump moment near the end of the film. These devices are uncomfortably odd, undoubtedly scary, and sorely used too little despite the drumming rabbit’s home release front cover spread. There’s also this perfect circle motif present throughout the story – a front door port hole, a hole cut in dry wall that becomes an important barrier see-through, and Olga’s crazy mother draws white circles on black paper, plus other examples – which, to me, indicates the proverb what comes around, goes around with who commits evil, receives it in the end and visa-versa. McCarthy’s suspense building moments within the gloomy rundown house can leave one peak through the slithered opening between a pair of hands over the eyes. However, McCarthy leans more into the Isaac’s dire dilemma and keystone past which I think comes back to easily. The entire time he wanders the premises, nothing strikes him with familiarity, nothing invokes a recollection, and yet, as soon as it’s mentioned he’s been the house before – circa 1 year ago – a rush of linear memory comes crashing back into flashback frames and everything up to this point is explained during a Mexican standoff with Olga. “Caveat’s” second act dredges slowly along, disinterring up backstory to quickly wrap up Isaac into a neat little package.
Briming with darkness and wrenching with fear, “Caveat” is this strange and unusual angle of reading the signs more carefully, but also stirs in anamnesis to help reign in who we really are and to distance ourselves from the person we were previously. Acorn Media International and Shudder deliver “Caveat” onto a PAL encoded, region B Blu-ray home video in full high definition,1080p resolution, presented in a cinemascope anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. McCarthy and cinematographer Kieran Fitzgerald reel in the wider resolution for tighter shots, keeping the quality contained and detailed within the house’s decrepit interiors and the characters’ textural contrasting between skin and clothing. McCarthy opts out of gel use for night sequences, casting a real stark darkness over everything with only thin outline to express action. Audio is lively enough for the ow level action on “Caveat’s” English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix. “Caveat” relies heavily on the combination of dead silence and the building instrumentation that resonates reverberations in a soundtrack composed Richard G. Mitchell who knows a thing or two about elevating intensity through his diverse career. Sound design plays into perfectly the silence as timed precise ambient noise, such as creaking wood under footsteps or the mechanical movements of the bunny, add to “Caveat’s” chilling charm. The film is UK certified 15 for strong horror, violence injury detail, and domestic abuse with a runtime of 88 minutes. The Blu-ray is accompanied with two audio commentaries in the special features – a director’s commentary and a producer’s commentary – as well as a split screen between the crude storyboards and the scenes they represent. There are no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Frankly, and I hate to say this, but the direction “Caveat” went was a bit of a letdown as the hope to extend upon Olga’s mother, a possible practitioner of black magic, but that’s not to say Damian McCarthy’s first feature crashed and burned in the utmost of failures. “Caveat” is still very much a well-made, you’ve-been-warned, harrowing scare tale that raises every single small hair on the back of your neck.