Irish filmmaker Damian McCarthy’s first feature, the dark indie horror Caveat is a slow paced but creepy indie horror film that uses its single location and limited characters to craft a haunting tale of loss, guilt and revenge. Isaac, a troubled man suffering from amnesia, is to be paid handsomely by an acquaintance Moe, to watch over his troubled niece, Olga, in her old family home. The home happens to be on an island (of course Isaac can’t swim) and is also the scene of Olga’s father’s suicide. Once there, Isaac discovers that not only is the house dilapidated and that Olga is borderline catatonic at times, but he has to wear a vest and chain which prevents him from leaving the property and from entering Olga’s room, which also contains the only phone.
McCarthy has a patient eye for the buildup of tension and the slow release of information about the mysteries contained within the house, which also includes the disappearance of Olga’s mother. What I really liked about this film is its ability to take an absurd scenario and make it believable. Isaac, though no fool, eventually agrees to the bizarre terms of the job for monetary reasons but also because he seems to want to help out this family who have suffered their share of tragedy.
Of course, weird shit starts happening almost immediately.
From pictures being moved around, to the discovery of a horrific secret in the basement, to Olga’s unsettling propensity to walk around carrying the loaded crossbow that her claustrophobic father allegedly used to kill himself after being locked up in the basement. Throw in the eerie mechanical rabbit that beats menacingly on a drum whenever something bad is going to happen and you have a potent recipe for an unnerving ninety minutes.
The performances are excellent, particularly Jonathan French as Isaac, his eyes conveying a deep sadness, evoking sympathy for this broken man. Olga, although well played by Leila Sykes, is more of an enigma than a fully fleshed character, though her odd behaviour is somewhat understandable by the end of the film. Olga’s uncle Moe (played by Ben Caplan) is an interesting character, seemingly caring but also deliberately withholding pertinent information from Isaac.
When the secrets are finally revealed about the family and the accident that lead to Isaac’s memory loss, the film does lose a bit of steam—the revelations, while fitting, undercut the perfectly built tension of the first two acts. Still, McCarthy has concocted a twisty thriller with shades of Memento and numerous haunted house movies. Caveat also features one of those sudden endings that may annoy some, but actually works perfectly in terms of the surviving characters and the tension between them.
Note: Denver rated the film 3.5 stars out five but was rounded up to4 stars for the Horror Oasis rating system.