Caveat Grips You Tightly and Never Lets Go

This is the first, of what I hope is many, in a series called ‘In Case You Missed It’ where I’m going to take a look at some of the lesser-known horror films that may have flown under your radar. I myself am guilty of dismissing some of the lower budget, independent films directed and starring people that don’t have their own Wikipedia pages but in recent years have discovered that some of them truly are diamonds in the rough. The Shudder original Caveat is a prime example of that and hopefully, my review as to why I think it’s so brilliant will convince you to give it a go.

Caveat is an Irish horror film that follows a man named Isaac, played magnificently by Jonathan French, with partial memory loss who accepts a job to ‘babysit’ a mentally unwell young woman named Olga (Leila Sykes). Olga is living alone after her father committed suicide and her mother went missing and due to her mental state her uncle Moe Barrett (Ben Caplin) doesn’t want her left alone. However, there are more than a few ‘caveats’ to what seems a fairly simple job. Firstly, the house is situated on an island, and due to Isaac’s inability to swim, there’s no way off of it. Secondly, Olga skulks around the house carrying a crossbow, and lastly, whilst she wanders around with a deadly weapon, Isaac is attached to a chain that only allows him to enter certain rooms. It sounds a bit like a slasher doesn’t it? I can assure you it isn’t. What unfolds is a terrifying supernatural mystery film that grips you from minute one and doesn’t let go even after the credits have finished.

I want to start by talking about the sheer, unrelenting terror that this movie manages to produce and when I say unrelenting I mean that very literally. There is not a single ‘safe’ scene in this film. Usually, when daytime rolls around in a horror film you know you can take a second to breathe and relax before the scares start up again. Writer/director Damian Mc Carthy instead puts you on Isaac’s leash and doesn’t allow you to escape. It’s not a film that focuses on cheap jumpscares (although there’s one or two executed with masterful precision), instead, Mc Carthy creates a grimy, unsettling atmosphere so thick that it could suffocate you. From the second Isaac steps into the dilapidated prison that Olga calls home, a combination of utter silence and Richard G. Mitchell’s understated but haunting soundtrack leaves you guessing as to what’s just beyond the camera. 

Olga, Leila Sykes, sits on the floor next to a bed covering her eyes with her hands

Silence is something that is so underused in modern-day cinema with many directors choosing to punctuate a door opening or a creature coming into view with a shrill screech or obnoxiously loud violin. It works to make you jump but if you take away those sounds more often than not you’d find yourself looking at a scene that isn’t the least bit scary. The silence in Caveat, however, fully immerses you in the world you’re watching. It makes every creak or footstep that much more significant and unnerves you in a way that no violin can.

The characters are another area in which Caveat excels. As already mentioned, the main character, Isaac, suffers from a form of short-term amnesia after a specifically vague accident, and actor Jonathan French does a fantastic job of portraying both the initial confusion at his circumstances and then, as the mental fog starts to lift, the awful realization as to why he is so interlinked with the house and the family that resided there. The cream of the crop however is the slimy Moe Barrett. From the very first scene, Ben Caplin creates a deeply unsettling character who the audience can tell is hiding more than a few secrets. Whilst he’s charismatic and convincing you can see in his eyes that he isn’t all that he claims to be which adds beautifully to the central mystery of just what is happening inside the isolated house. The last character I want to focus on isn’t really a character at all but instead a small toy rabbit with a snare drum that taps away as a warning that danger is just around the corner. The rabbit has these menacing human eyes that stare directly down the camera, almost breaking the fourth wall, and as soon as it starts beating away at its drum, your heart has no option but to beat with it. Creepy dolls have been a staple in horror films since the dawn of time but none have had an effect on me quite like this raggedy rabbit.

All in all, Caveat is a claustrophobic, intriguing, and genuinely scary movie. Its low budget is actually one of its greatest strengths allowing Damian Mc Carthy to focus on creating tension with silence and exquisite characterization. So close the curtains, turn off the lights, and discover the mysteries of Caveat.

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Written by Tom Bailey

Tom is a film reviewer that absolutely loves finding diamonds in the rough and shining a light on them in the hopes they get the recognition they deserve! Other than a massive horror junkie, he also love football (soccer) and is massively devoted to Arsenal FC. He also writes for his own blog

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