The Irish have always been drawn to the morbid. Maybe due to all the strife, famine and tragedy which litters their history. As such, there has been, throughout film and literature, examples of Irish horror. For a small country they produce plenty of it. In literature the Irish have brought us Dracula (Bram Stoker), Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), headless horsemen, and plenty of ghosts (Lord Dunsany, Oscar Wilder, etc.) and in film there is The Lodgers (2017), I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), The Canal (2014), and many others. The latest in this line is Caveat, originally released in 2020, directed and written by a man with a name which is a perfect combo of typically Irish and horror, Damian McCarthy (first feature film).
In his debut, McCarthy attempts to scare the bejesus out of the viewer using the usual tropes of horror – dark cinematography, tension, odd storylines, and surprises. Nothing out of the ordinary here….except what goes on in Caveat.
Isaac (Jonathan French – first feature film) is a loner. He likes life that way. Keeps to himself and keeps things simple. That all changes when he is offered a short term, but well paying job from his landlord, Barrett (Ben Caplan – from television’s Call the Midwife). It seems like easy money. Isaac is to earn $200 a day to simply watch Barrett’s niece Olga (Leila Sykes – Lancaster Skies) for a few days. Barrett is desperate as he cannot do it as Olga creeps him out (he does divulge that she suffers from mental health issues) and his brother has died. Attracted by the seeming simplicity of the well paying job, Isaac accepts.
Though Barrett has been honest about Olga’s mental state, he has left many other things out of the picture he has given Isaac. He has neglected to tell him the house where he will watch the young girl is on a secluded island, that his brother/Olga’s father (Conor Dwane – Christmas at Draculas, Strength and Honour) because of Olga’s paranoia, Isaac will have to wear a leather harness and chain which will restrict his entry into certain rooms in the house and that is just the tip of the iceberg. After some serious hesitation, Isaac once again agrees to it.
As soon as Barrett leaves the island strange things begin to happen. Olga’s behaviour becomes more and more unpredictable, strange things happen in the house and Isaac, who has gaps in his memory, finds himself in a life and death cat and mouse type game.
Caveat…an interesting title for a film. One of its meanings is a warning enjoining one from certain acts or practices. That definition pretty much sums up this film in an understated kind of way. Right from the get go your stomach is tied in knots. You know you are in for a bumpy ride. A scary bumpy ride. The music, visuals and pacing indicate that. McCarthy’s film is scary. Filled with tension. Occurs in a rundown and poorly lit isolated house. It works mostly because you are never truly sure of what is going on, what is the truth.
The set up is good and the story is intriguing. Then the usual horror stuff begins to happen. Poor choices are made. A dark basement becomes the creepy setting. An unstable woman is carrying a crossbow. Believability has to be largely suspended for things to work. The story is eked out little by little. And it gets stranger and stranger. This is when your brain begins telling you to scream out to Isaac to get out of there. No good is going to come out of this.
A big part of horror, which is often overlooked and undervalued, is the music. Music in horror makes us nervous, sit on the edge of our seats and jump. Here the score by Richard G. Mitchell (Almost Heaven, A Good Woman) is excellent. Does all you could ask of it. Alternating between soaring and subtle as required. There are even long moments of silence. When you can just hear creaking floors, rattling chains and the breathing of the two in the house. Totally amps up the unnerving level.
A low budget film which delivers on its promise which is to creep you out totally.