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Caveat 2022 Film Review

Caveat (2020), directed by Damian Mc Carthy | FEATURE FILM REVIEW

Haunted with a suffocating atmosphere, Damian Mc Carthy’s debut feature film Caveat (2020) is a modern slab of macabre madness wrapped in low-budget creativity, ghostly imagery, and sprinkles of the darkest comedy.

One word

A caveat is defined as such:

Noun: a warning or proviso of specific stipulations, conditions, or limitations.

Isaac in Caveat
Isaac in Caveat. Directed by Damian Mc Carthy

In this definition, Caveat may be the perfect title for Damian Mc Carthy’s debut film. Oftentimes single-word titles can be bold and direct in creating an emotional response from its audience. At other times, it can be a blight on the marketing scheme for the film. Either way, the meaning of a title should be relevant enough so that when an audience sees the film, the title connects in a way that defines the experience.

In Caveat, the title accomplishes just that. It works particularly well in how the title card pops up in the opening sequence where a simple “babysitting” job suddenly comes with a lot of wild, disturbing, and occasionally humorous stipulations with it.

The resulting job, given to a spiraling and often disconnected Isaac, played in disheveled confusion with the apt amount of stoic tension by Jonathan French, results in a strange descent into the macabre in a manner that would make Edgar Allan Poe proud.

caveAT-MOSPHERE

It’s hard to know what to expect from Caveat initially when diving into the intimate and tensely wounded world that Damian Mc Carthy is crafting. The opening sequence feels innately comedic, in its own incredibly subtle and dark way, but judging from the trailers, posters, or media covers the film would mostly be seen as a visual feast of horrific images.

The damn toy rabbit that pops up throughout the film deserves a production design award just for how unnerving it is.

Yet, that’s exactly the atmosphere that makes Caveat so impeccably effective. The film never shies away from delivering on layers of surmounting atmosphere, built on those key visuals, a steady hand at sculpting tension, and its subtle comedic beats. Most of the latter is delivered by the character’s (often lacking) reaction to the events around them.

Barret and Isaac in Caveat
Barret and Isaac in Caveat

An un-fantasy island

Much of the success of the atmosphere in Caveat can be attributed to the visuals and how director and editor Damian Mc Carthy maximizes its setting and other small production choices into the script.

Just the use of the slowly decaying house, isolated on an island only reachable by rowboat in a reveal that might have been fitting in Young Frankenstein (1974) more than a modern horror picture, is worth the watch.

The whispering pictures, the discolored interiors, the muted colors of the outdoors, or the basement which might have been pulled straight from Saw (2004) in its grunginess make for the perfect setting for a haunted house film.

Watching our protagonist arrive at the setting is having his character and the audience step into an otherworldly place, where people are chained down and random crossbows may appear, and isolated in a place that’s representative of the decaying memory of the past.

It’s even claustrophobic in its use of the natural space and Mc Carthy uses it to some incredible benefits in setting the stage for its story.

Olga Hold Bunny Beginning Close Up
Olga holds the creepy bunny in Caveat

The unreliable narrative

Not that it takes much to make a haunted house film these days, particularly with a director with a knack for lighting and canted camera angles, but Caveat does it in a way that its audience is unsure of its directions.

The main protagonist, Isaac, is an amnesiac and struggles to remember things, a convenient trait to give a character to create a sense of unease and mystery for the audience. Can we trust them if they are unable to remember things they can trust for themselves? As the film progresses and introduces the other characters, the sense of uneasy depth is uncovered.

Issac is hired by his landlord, a man that immediately smells of untrustworthiness, and must “babysit” his adult niece Olga, played woodenly by Leila Sykes. The trio exist as the three main characters that the narrative is wrapped around, although Isaac and Olga get to dig into the strange relationship they have with one another, the past, and this daunting house that ultimately contains far too many secrets in its stained and crumbling walls.

Nothing in Caveat is to be trusted, though.

Olga Cover Eyes on Floor in Bedroom 2
Olga in Caveat

Not even the toy rabbit with angry humanesque eyes. Not that anyone would ever see that thing and say to themselves, ‘I trust to go to sleep at night with that in the room.’ It’s this sense of unreliability in all aspects that sells the atmosphere and production design though. Subtle performances from the cast further distance the film from a reality the viewer’s embrace, but never detaches in a way that pushes Caveat out of the sense that the consequences of their actions will not resonate. It’s a tricky line to walk and this film walks it finely.

All in the details

Take a moment and reread that definition of ‘caveat’ at the beginning. If this film, named for that, is truly about limitations, provisions, or conditions added to a task, then Caveat owns its title proudly.

This is a film that’s all in the details, no matter how small or random they may seem and Mc Carthy embraces that challenge. It’s tonality, particularly in its disengagement from a sense of reality with those details or its setting, can be a challenge to many viewers, but for those who are buying into its blend of horror, metaphor, and bleak-ass comedy it’s ripe for dissection.

Check out the film on Shudder, Blu Ray, or other digital surfaces while I scour eBay to find a whispering painting to hang in my guest room.

Credits

Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams
Images courtesy of Shudder / Acorn Media

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewer / Presenter

Writer, podcaster, cinema fiend, drive-in mutant, kung fu fanatic, horror hound, vulgar auteur, and sometimes human being. I’ve been writing about cinema for over ten years now, dedicating my time to all genre cinema. Co-creator of Blood Brother Film Reviews and co-host of the No Franchise Fatigue podcast.

Creator & Editor-in-Chief

I own this thing. Being creative makes me tick. Film lover. Coffee hater. Website manager, headline and copywriter, video editor, graphic/motion designer, editor, presenter...