The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - CAVEAT | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - CAVEAT

caveat review
An amnesiac accepts a job with a curious caveat.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Damian McCarthy

Starring: Jonathan French, Leila Sykes, Ben Caplan

caveat poster

After several millennia of storytelling, it's rare to come across a premise – whether in movies, TV, lierature or theatre – that makes you sit up and remark "Hmm, I haven't seen that before." For his feature debut, Irish writer/director Damian McCarthy has devised a setup that would make Edgar Allan Poe fist pump the lid of his coffin in appreciation.

Suffering from amnesia in the wake of an accident, Isaac (Jonathan French) is approached by Moe (Ben Caplan), who claims to be an old friend, and offered 200 quid a day for five days' work. The job, while unconventional, seems easy enough. Moe's brother committed suicide in his family's isolated home, and since then, Moe's troubled niece Olga (Leila Sykes) has been visiting the home, where she regularly succumbs to a catatonic state. Moe wants Isaac to stay with Olga and make sure she stays safe. Seems simple enough.

caveat review

When Moe takes Isaac to the home, it becomes clear he's held back some vital nuggets of information. For one, the home is on an island, accessible only by boat, which means Isaac, who can't swim, will be stuck there until the five days are up and Moe returns to fetch him. But the real caveat is that Moe doesn't trust Isaac to stay out of his niece's bedroom, and so Isaac is forced to wear a harness on a chain, which restricts his movements to certain areas of the house.

Reluctantly, Isaac decides it's worth the money and accepts this odd assignment. It's not long before it becomes clear that he's gotten himself involved with something very sinister. Isaac hears whispers in the dark; a creepy painting seems to keep turning itself around when Isaac hides it against the wall; an even creepier mangy toy bunny bangs its drum in a manner that suggests it's powered by something other than Duracell. And then there's Olga, who walks around the house wielding a crossbow. But the real trouble begins when Isaac decides to explore the basement…

caveat review

As a piece of storytelling, Caveat is close to flawless. While its premise boasts an extravagant scenario, McCarthy ensures it plays out in simple fashion. Taking place entirely, save for a few flashbacks, in one crumbling, damp-ridden house, it's a textbook example of economical filmmaking. As screenwriter, McCarthy dishes out information without ever getting bogged down in exposition, and as a director he manipulates the limited, claustrophobic geography of his setting in expert fashion, wringing out every last drop of tension from this narrative. McCarthy's expertise in establishing his setting's geography pays off in spades in the final act when a cat and mouse game kicks in, as Isaac and Olga stalk one another like the protagonists of that old 'Spy vs Spy' video game.

Caveat keeps both the audience and its leading man guessing. Neither we nor Isaac are sure who we can trust. Has Isaac been set up by Moe? Is Olga involved with Moe's possible scheme or is she too being duped? Is Isaac really as innocent as his limited memory leads him to believe? Is there a supernatural force at play or will this all culminate in a Scooby Doo reveal?

caveat review

With his wide eyes, French perfectly embodies someone trying to put two and two together when he can't even remember the number four. Caplan is a slimy presence from the off, while Sykes' closed face acting keeps us in the dark regarding her involvement in the shenanigans.

If it opens like an adaptation of some lost Poe tale, or a late addition to BBC's 'Ghost Stories at Christmas' canon, Caveat climaxes in EC Comics fashion, with a final twist deserving of its own lurid splash page. What's so impressive about McCarthy's film is how smooth this transition plays out. Devoid of jump scares, loud bangs or an overbearing score, this is horror at its most effective, scaled down, pared back and tight as a possessed toy bunny's snare drum.

Caveat is on Shudder UK/ROI from June 3rd.

2021 movie reviews