Smuggling EVIL Past the Revenue Men! “Night Creatures” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Scream! Factory)

The Marsh Phantoms are Coming to a Blu-ray Near You!

A savage pirate is left for dead on a remote island by his ruthless captain, a small village avoids taxation from the British King’s revenue men by smuggling French Brandy, and on the same village’s marsh land, ghostly skeletons ride into the night, placing the fear into wanderers with ghastly-glowing skulls and undead horses. At the center of it all is Dr. Bliss, the Romney Marsh village Vicker, who also heads the liquor smuggling ring in town and plays the King’s tax revenue soldiers as fools by misdirecting their attention to elsewhere and away from their illegal brandy run. Keeping up with a ruse that’s cracking at the foundation with one of Romney Marsh’s irresolute community leaders forces Dr. Bliss to think fast and stay on top of a smuggling operation at the constant brink of collapse, but a return of a familiar face stirs up conflict and the captain of the revenge men continues to push for the truth no matter the cost.

Peter Cushing is well-known for his solemn gothic horror roles in nearly a slew of countless Hammer films. An unequivocal and stoically determined vampire hunter, the intelligently disillusioned creature maker befallen by his creation, and a wizard sleuth with a nose for clues in tracking down murders are just a few of his linchpin roles for Hammer Productions that the English actor portrayed so very brilliantly in the company’s peak, and off-peak, years. Yet, one of his most pinnacle performances stem from one the lesser-known Hammer productions based off the English author Russell Thorndike’s anti-hero and swashbuckling novel “Dr. Syn” published in 1915. Known in the United Kingdom as “Captain Clegg” and “The Curse of Captain Clegg” because of legal rights issues with the Thorndike title and Disney (yes, that Disney!), U.S. audiences might recognize the Cushing film as “Night Creatures,” directed by a Hammer one-off in Peter Graham Scott (“The Headless Ghost”) and is written by Hammer vet Anthony Hinds (“The Brides of Dracula,” “The Kiss of the Vampire”) under his usual pseudonym John Elder with additional dialogue from Barbara S. Harper. John Temple-Smith produces the film under Hammer Film Productions

Though the cast, crew, and production company were bound not able to use “Dr. Syn” in the film that didn’t stop Peter Cushing in becoming Dr. Bliss, the peoples of Romney Flat’s very own Vicker who revitalized the small town and severed them from hefty taxation with a scheme of smuggling. Clearly, Cushing is in his glory, in his element of wide range, and can be seen as having a ball with playing a dualistic character in Dr. Bliss. Dr. Bliss bares no sign of being saintly stiff around the gills as any pious man might be portrayed and Cushing, at times, can be as rigid as they come in certain roles. Not Dr. Bliss though as a man playing the facade to hide behind-the-curtain his good intentions from those who want a piece of the pie for king and country. Opposite Cushing is “Never Take Candy from a Stranger’s” Patrick Allen as Captain Collier who trucks men by boat to land a surprise inspection after being tipped off about a possible smuggling ring. Allen’s cuts Collier from the clever cloth but the leader of revenge men is always one step behind his time as Pirate chaser and now as a fraud nabber. Another excellent act of thespianism in “Night Creature” is another Hammer household name in Michael Ripper (“The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb,” “The Plague of the Zombies”) after a long stint of playing unnamed sidelined roles early in Hammer’s beginnings. Ripper has an unforgettable look with gravely gruff voice and a quick timed wit that makes him a pleasure every time he steps into the scene. Just coming onto the scene is Oliver Reed on the coattails of his success with “The Curse of the Werewolf” and though his role is purely supportive, his act as the love stricken and loyal to the smuggling cause son of the naive local squire and magistrate (Derek Francis, “The Tomb of Legeia”) who isn’t in on the scheme. “Night Creatures” rounds out the cast with Yvonne Romain (“Circus of Horrors”) as about the closest thing resembling a love interest, Martin Benson (“The Omen”), and Milton Reid (“Deadlier Than the Male”) as the Mulatto pirate exploited as a shackled hound dog to sniff out French Brandy…literally.

A swashbuckling, smuggling caper with notes of macabre imagery and a purloin-the-show performance by Peter Cushing stows “Night Creatures” away as one my favorite Hammer productions. Laced with characteristically grand production pieces and sets, mostly shot at Hammer’s Bray Film Studios, “Night Creatures” looks luxurious and feels expensive as pirate ship interiors, magnificent church hall, and haunting shots of a scarecrow with voyeuristic eyes propped on the countryside landscape elevate not only the story but also the rich characters brimming with complexity. Scott does a fine job sustain an ambiguous Dr. Bliss who, from our own suspicions, can be immediately pinpointed with a backstory that never falls in the pit of exposition. The true story behind Dr. Bliss is practically pressed, squeezed, tugged, and pulled by tooth and nail to finally be revealed to the audience and the moment is greatly satisfying when admission to something we all know is finally out in the open. While Dr. Bliss purposefully misguides the revenge men astray from his illicit activity, “Night Creatures” is also misguiding the audience with ghastly suspense in the existence of the Marsh Phantoms, a luminescent design of full body skeletal depictions on top of midnight cloaks and onesies, pulled off by special effects supervisor Les Bowie (“Paranoiac”) and his team to add a taste of horror to a rather subterfuge storyline of rebirth and sacrifice.

Now on a part of their Collector’s Edition line, Scream! Factory releases “Night Creatures” onto Blu-ray home video with a new 2022 2K scan from the original interpositive. The result is mostly immaculate with visualize details along the skin lines that makes every bead of sweat and every follicle more apparent to the eye. The release is presented in a 1080p high-definition transfer in what’s now labeled Univisium, an aspect ratio that is 2:1 (2:00.1), reformatted from the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Less than a handful of scenes display what looks to be posterization and a degrade in the scan, causing the scene to revert back to the original transfer for a split second. For this you receive a little more width that, ironically enough, homes better in on the focal image. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix has little to speak ill of as the dialogue, with a hint of continuous static, is greatly clean and clear, ambient track is balanced in range and depth, and you can follow every clashing note in Don Banks’ dramatically orchestrated score. Special features include a new audio commentary with film historian Bruce Hallenback, a new interview with Les Bowie’s special effects technician Brian Johnson, Pulp Friction with film historian Kim Newman on his take on the clustering mess of “Dr. Syn” film rights, Peter Cushing’s Changing Directions with film historian Jonathan Rigby mostly on Peter Cushing’s admiration for the role and his invested interest in playing the main role, a making-of featurette narrated by John Carson, The Mossman Legacy of film historian John Carson showcasing the lot of antique carriages crafted by the George Mossman company in Hammer films, a still gallery, and the original theatrical trailer. The unrated, 83-minute feature also includes a cardboard slipcover with new illustrated from cover art by Mark Maddox. Don’t let a claggy title like “Night Creatures” fool you! Though not the sexiest title, “Night Creatures” will enliven with the mystery of Marsh Phantoms, the suspense of the cat & mouse smuggling game, and the pure bliss on Peter Cushing’s face as he fully immerses himself into the role of his lifetime.

The Marsh Phantoms are Coming to a Blu-ray Near You!

Best Friends Trying Their Best to Best EVIL! “The Boy Behind the Door” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

Best friends Bobby and Kevin are kidnapped by a stranger and taken to a remote house in the middle of nowhere. After Kevin is removed from the stranger’s trunk and is dragged into the house kicking, screaming, and pleading to be let go, Bobby breaks free of his restraints, but hearing his best friend Kevin’s screams leaves Bobby with no choice but to help him. Working his way through the house and upstairs unnoticed, obstacles stand between him and rescuing Kevin, including the boys’ kidnapper, a paying customer, and Kevin being shackled to the wall, locked inside behind an attic door, but that doesn’t avert Bobby’s intentions from thinking outside the box to save his best friend from a fate far worse than death. However, only a matter time before the kidnapper or the paying customer knows there’s someone else lying low the house and unearthing troubling secrets.

Child sex abuse is, without a double, a disturbing and touching subject to exhibit in cinema.  How to maneuver around the theme with child actors can be a delicate balance of commitment and understanding when considering the cast involved, especially if most would argue that a child’s brain is too immature or not developed appropriately to comprehend the impact of sexual abuse and to expose them indirectly could also be traumatic to their being.  The opposite of that argument has been proved over the decades with child actors having major roles in general with horror films.  Monsters of all shapes and sizes, guts and blood, and violent themes surround them and films such as “The People Under the Stairs” and “IT” have some of the most frightening and disturbing practical effect imagery that would cause sleepless night terrors for months and, yet kids star in them and are key to their success because, as we all know, children are not immune to real world dangers and threats.  So, why should be exempt from the creative imaginary ones? David Charbonier and Justin Powell finesses that line with a massaged contented breakout feature in “The Boy Behind the Door” written-and-directed by the lifelong friends and produced by Ryan Scaringe of Kinogo Pictures. Howard Barish of Kandoo Films, and Rick Rosenthal, Bert Kern, Ryan Lewis of Whitewater Films

***Beware… this section may contain spoilers*** Lonnie Chavis (“This Is Us”) and Ezra Dewey (“The Djinn”) play Bobby and Kevin who find themselves in the worst-case scenario of two unaccompanied pre-teens violently whisked away to an isolated farmhouse near one or two oil well pumps. I commend Chavis and Dewey’s hard fought, emotionally deep performances in battling against the creepiest of odds and feigning injury without being too over-the-top or inauthentic. Either if by being well coached or, more than likely, just good child actors, the level of anxiety maintains a solid 10 throughout with them. Their only scenes together where I thought the fusing of their friendship didn’t quite work was before the abduction where their dialogue and interactions as two young boys drifting across fields and profoundly thinking about their future deemed itself well too mature and far beyond being advanced for boys their age that the moment was a complete misfire for the story. Inevitably, the two friends run into a couple of creeps and exploitative racketeers in Micah Hauptman (“Phobias”) as the paying customer abandoning paid up time to chase down Bobby and Kristen Bauer van Straten (“True Blood”) in a twisted plot point of a white, late 40s to early 50s-year-old woman, who in the film could be someone’s mother, as the ruthless kidnapper of young boys for old man pleasure. Hauptman is more-or-less there in slimy spirit but doesn’t ooze enough egregious behavior to note as that trait falls immensely well upon the shoulders of van Straten with a mean streak that never lets up despite the rather paralleling of a hard R “Home Alone” antics between adults and children.

“The Boy Behind the Door” is a butt-clenching thriller because of the sheer fact children straddle the danger line on either side of spectrum. You have Kevin locked securely away in the summitted play and video room, shackled and waiting in screams, tears, and fears for his sure fate, and then there’s Bobby escaping his restraints and staying in the shadows, out of sight, trying to save his friend before he becomes either chained and exploited like Kevin or executed because of his strong will. Charbonier and Powell offer little-to-no fluff in pretending “The Boy Behind the Door” is anything but a fight for survival, a fight for friendship, and a fight against the utmost evil. The film isn’t full of strong one-liners or momentous moments that keep the story grounded and pure in its vilest state with tiptoeing around the one-woman operated child sex abuse ring without going into the full gross details. Charbonier and Powell’s story has many strengths, but it also has a few weaknesses waned upon the characters’ decision making. For instance, when Bobby has to break into the house, he throws a rock through the mud room door window without knowing where the kidnapper is and if they are in earshot of the window breaking. Later in the film, Bobby is trapped in the upstairs bathroom and when a squad car pulls up, instead of breaking the window he can clearly reach, he tries to yell through it and fiddle with opening the latch. Why does he simply not break the window and then yell for help? That particular scene drove me nuts and there a few other minor instances of the same caliber throughout in a story that well made enough to be compelling, to be horrific, and to be gripping in and around every house interior scene.

Tense, harrowing, and an ugly truth, “The Boy Behind the Door” is defensible horror at its best and a righteous strength of friendship. Acorn Media International distributes “The Boy Behind the Door” onto a region 2 Blu-ray in the UK! The PAL encoded release is presented in a widescreen 2.38:1 aspect ratio and, speaking digitally, the picture renders flawlessly the inkling of low-lit hope inside a world of dark fatalism and cynicism under the cinematography eye of Julián Estrada. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is crystal clear that occupies each channel with the right number of decibels to exact the range of sneaking through a creaky wooden floored house. Dialogue is clean and clear, especially at whisper breath. The Shudder original film comes with a pair of special features including a blooper reel of mostly Lonnie Chavis sneezing and goofing off which is nice to see kids being kids on set and a music video to the film which is more like a trailer with Anton Sanko’s dark synth-gripping score being an apogee of suspense. There’s never sympathy for these types of vile exploitation villains on and off screen and in “The Boy Behind the Door,” that fight back mantra resonates loud and clear in an unambiguous do-or-die between guileless innocence and pure evil.

Become Lost with the EVIL in Your Head. “Faye” reviewed! (Reel 2 Reel Films / Digital Screener)



Author Faye L. Ryan has found success as a career writer penning personal growth and self-assurance books, but the renowned author has hit a mental wall in growing out of the process of mourning for her deceased husband, killed in a car accident in which Faye was at the wheel.  Scarred physically and mentally with painful reminders of that fateful night, Faye struggles to focus on her next new book, threatened to be dropped by her publisher if she doesn’t meet their deadline, and interacts with her husband as if he was still with her in person.  In a last ditch effort to get Faye back to writing before cutting her loose, the publisher offers up a lakeside vacation house to help focus on her work, but as Faye settles into her new, quiet writing space, she finds herself unable to escape a haunting presence tormenting her. 

Working solo is tough.  Having no one to bounce off dialogue or react to their disposition can be daunting and unnatural for most actors and actresses.  Yet, the titular character in “Faye” must do very that to ensure Kd Amond’s 83-minute feature directorial about loss, grief, and the supernatural representation that braids into a broken reality will exist without suffering stagnation.  “Faye” is a 2021 female-driven horror-drama written by Amond and the film’s lone wolf star Sarah Zanotti as the two filmmakers reteam from the previous year’s dysfunctional family thriller, “Rattled.”  Shot between Nashville, Tennessee and the cabin resort of Lacombe, Louisiana, “Faye” is cut from an all-female producing team of by Amond, Zanotti, Sara DelHaya, and Nicole Marie Lim under Amond and Zanotti’s independent film production company AZ if Productions.

So, how did Sarah Zanotti perform going at the role alone with not another single body in sight?  Aside from the performance scale, initial first thoughts about an emotionally processing Faye rings clear that she is definitely alone with her thoughts without ever confronting her past head-on.  Faye, more or less, brushes the incident to the side, drowning herself in wine and loathing, until vague, intermittent memories pull her back down to reality every so often.  The role gratifies a sense of a struggling individual’s unintended and deeply personal isolation stemmed by unable to grasp with the hard to deal with issues to where’s she’s invented an imaginary friend in the form of her late husband in this pretend world of being normal, routine, and safe.  Looking from the outside in, Faye invokes pity on the saddest level as she converses with thin air as well as drinking large quantities of wine alone. There’s even the suggestion in either flashback scenes or maybe representational moments of despair that she, at one point in time, committed to, or thought of, suicide. As for the “Archaon: The Halloween Summoning” actress Zanotti? The actress, singer-songwriter, and proud cat mother (as stated on her personal website) breathlessly engrosses herself in Faye’s darkest moments with a ramble of insecurities that skate around the main issue until that issue manifests as a specter of duality, haunting “Faye” with her own scarred image that won’t allow her to leave until she combats the guilt eating her away. However, Zanotti’s a bit one tone through the entire storyline, never zig-zagging in a full range on emotive spectrum when face-to-face with the emulated specter. There are guest voices in the film whenever Faye takes or makes a phone call, including vocals from Corri English as Emory the publisher, Dean Shortland as Bobby, Brian Vance as Jacob, Kd Amond as Faye’s mom, and Zanotti as Elle.

To carry an entire feature film on your shoulders is empathetically tough for the one and only principle lead Sarah Zanotti and also the director Kd Amond as well and I wouldn’t declare “Faye” to be an overstimulating visual film albeit snazzy editing and makeup effects when sucked into supernatural self-reproach and suffering. “Faye” leans heavy into self-centered conversation in an acerbic chaptered and non-linear context that can be difficult to follow it’s pathway structure at times when the titular character is not framed in the cabin but rather sitting, speaking on a well-lit platform that fits her personal growth expatiate, like a Tony Robbins-type, connecting back to Faye’s mindset or actions in the cabin. Though much of the conversion is directed toward herself or the mental image and two-way communication of dead husband, a good chunk of the dialogue is the unwavering tough love business-speak between agent and client. Faye publisher rakes in money based off book sales and if Faye isn’t writing up drafts than a publisher does not care about your personal tragedy. That dynamic during the calls feels utterly cold with no pity or sympathy for Faye in the voice of the agent who cares solely about client image for publicity and is determined to nag a draft out of a woman who has lost her best friend in life – grief and guilt be damned. As a spook show, “Faye” whips up a few moments of fearful highlights but does little to the film’s self-proclaimed horror label when more of the acidity of internalizing the death and destruction of her life becomes more manic without the monster that’s introduced too late or comes too little often to be integrated into the story properly and stands out as negative concentrated symbolism.

Oozing with heartbreak and melancholy, the fracturing viability in “Faye” calls forth the detrimental impact and for reinstation back in the society, one needs to fall before getting back up. Reel 2 Reel Films brings the American-made, woman-driven, atmospheric and apparitional “Faye” to the United Kingdom on digital home video come May 9th. Since a digital screener was previewed, there will be no critique of the audio or video qualities. Kd Amond was really a one woman show behind the camera by taking on not only the directing duties but also many others, including cinematography and visual/practical effects and for “Faye,” the film was mostly captured with natural lighting outside the cabin, practical lighting for cabin interiors, and key lighting of Faye on stage. There’s use of a filters during the more supernatural plights and to tell night scenes that don’t look natural, leaning toward a more style-choice purple. For any extras, there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Faye” has strong bones for a good grief and guilt ghost film in the indie realm and while it doesn’t have the star-laden power of other similar themes of its kind in “The Babadook” or “Hereditary,” “Faye” still invokes the power of hurt and the summoning of self-condemnation.

You Must Put EVIL to Fire! “You Are Not My Mother” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Quiet and meek Charlotte lives with her granny and mother in Northern Dublin, Ireland. When Charlotte’s mother spirals into one of her depression fits after dropping off Charlotte at school, her mother disappears without a trace only to return a day later, wandering into their home in the middle of the night. Happy to see her mother acting jovial, the teen aims to reconnect the mother-daughter bridge that has long been under disrepair due to severe mental depression, but she then notices a string of fits, fits not concerning depression but of violent, erratic behavior too frightening for Charlotte to believe that this person who came back home in the middle of the night is the same person, her same mother. When her Granny suspects that mom has been replaced with a changeling, Charlotte and her new best friend Suzanne seek to uncover her mother’s true self on Halloween night when the barrier between our world and the spiritual world is at its thinnest.

There are many customs and cultures surrounding Halloween for various countries. Sometimes, the day that most of us horror fans look forward to every 31st day of October every year isn’t always about dressing up in costume, obtaining bags upon bags full of candy, doing mischievous pranks, or even sitting down to marathon the Michael Myers’ “Halloween” franchise. For UK, specifically in Northern Ireland, bonfires light up the land on Halloween,” or what is called Samhaim, for an array of reasons, one more traditionally being to keep evil spirits from crossing over from their dimension and into ours when the “All Hallow’s Eve” barrier between the two realms near kiss in proximity. Today’s Irelanders set ablaze bonfires more for an extravagant, beer-drinking party than to defensively thwart the uninvited spirits from gliding into our world and this becomes the Halloween backdrop for Kate Dolan’s written-and-directed, debut feature length folklore horror film, “You Are Not My Mother,” as a battle against the supernatural hidden in plain sight as one of us, a doppelganger. Dublin-based Fantastic Films (“Vivarium”) and the sweeping Screen Ireland compose as the film’s production companies with “Vivarium” and “Sea Fever’s” Deirdre Levins as producer.

The touch and go fragile battlegrounds of where children tiptoe on already severely fractured eggshells around their parents debilitating and volatile depression can be tough to capture on screen.  The voyeuristic hesitancy of sunken melancholy keeps the child around the fringes and ever guessing their parent’s rotating state of mind and “The Green Sea’s” Hazel Douple, as the teenage daughter Charlotte, nicknamed Char, and Carolyn Bracken (“The Dublin Murders”), as the unstable mother, connect strongly with that unnatural relationship imbalance.  Douple is perfectly reserved with Char’s mother’s erraticism, witnessing, and conveying a different response with just her eyes, every emotional stage washes over her mother from listlessness to jovial dancing to complete abusive rage, a range Bracken unnervingly does so frighteningly well.  Eventually, Char would need to realize the truth that her mother’s manic behavior is not solely due to a mental health issue but a malevolent fairy issue and need to break the chains of restraint to save the only parent she has left.  There’s no mention of a father figure throughout the narrative and could only speculate that the father either past or hightailed the relationship due an infinite amount of reasons with one being more prominent against mom’s harmful instability.  Amongst the multi-generational, female-driven, character story is the top matriarch in Granny, played by “Citadel’s” Ingrid Craigie, who is positioned awkwardly as a bypassed presence and not really substantial weight bearing down on the contentious tension in the house they all share together.  Granny’s off-putting and mysterious ever since the opening scene with a layer of understanding and occultism hardly tapped into or even with a slight of exposition as she builds talismans and goes off to visit a friend to discuss Char’s mother.  Paul Reid (“The Ritual”), Jordanne Jones, Katie White, Jade Jordan, and Florence Adebambo co-star.

“You Are Not My Mother” continues to be a tsunami of new wave UK horror washing onto the shores of theatrical, digital, and home video platforms and any film that starts with burning a baby just might be okay in my book.  No, I’m not a psychopath, I just like to be overcome by dreadful content; yet, though the Kate Dolan cinematic accession as a feature film writer-director doesn’t start with perfection with the story burdening more wrinkles than the direction  I’ve already touched upon the mishandling of Granny and her connection to a supernatural belief goes without say that her role as mediator falls severely short of development key to Char’s total comprehension of her mother not really being her mother due to XYZ reason.  The backstory also tries to reinstate itself into the present story but can’t shape up from its gelatinous yarn, giving little for Char and the audiences to work off of and take all that is happening with good faith on face value. There are continuous instances of this weak bridge connection between characters and events as we also see between Char and a school bully Suzanne who instantly become best friends after a single shared connection that’s not poignantly stabbing, but for the narrative, it’s enough for Suzanne, who wants chewed gum and stuck it on Char’s school notes or help set a photograph of her mother on fire, to open up a soft spot instantaneously without a hurtle to overcome.  Where “You Are Not My Mother” succeeds is in the character and story driven parameters without relying heavily on gratuitous special effects with enough practical to scare the wits out of you and firmly no CGI to supplement the creation of Carolyn Bracken’s facial dysmorphia, like a disturbing happy face emoji, as a replaced mother.

“You Are Not My Mother” is a Halloween movie, an Irish folklore Halloween movie, prickled with Samhain traditions at the very core of Kate Dolan’s story.  The film is slated for a March 25th release in theaters and on demand from Magnet Releasing. The 93-minute folklore horror is equally matched by its rifting, soul-stirring composition from the Belfast-based and worldly-sound of Die Hexen who also double-dips as sound designer, blending sometimes delicate but often jarring synthesized ensemble of sound. Narayan Van Maele’s cinematography has an overcast austere, almost icy, in the rendering of what is usually a lush in greenery and rich in historical, old-world place, but the Maele’s wide and long shots are engrossing accompanied by a tighter edge that often feels cramped when inside the house, good for close quartered domestic contention in the family drama parameter. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits for this film. If not for Carolyn Bracken and Hazel Douple’s fiery and lucid performances to keep glued to, “You Are Not My Mother” would simply fall apart at the seams, squandering much of the Irish folklore that already hangs by a thread.

EVIL Rap-A-Tap-Taps on its Little Drum. “Caveat” reviewed! (Acorn International Media / Blu-ray)

You’ve Been Warned to Watch “Caveat” on Blu-ray from Acorn Media!

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.

You’ve Been Warned to Watch “Caveat” on Blu-ray from Acorn Media!