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INDIECORK 2020

Review: Caveat

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- Damian Mc Carthy’s psychological horror was the opening film of this year’s edition of the IndieCork Film Festival

Review: Caveat
Jonathan French in Caveat

The world premiere of Damian Mc Carthy’s psychological horror Caveat [+see also:
trailer
interview: Damian Mc Carthy
film profile
]
opened this year’s edition of the IndieCork Film Festival (4-18 October), one of Ireland’s leading events celebrating independent cinema and music.

The Irish director wrote and directed this story of a man called Isaac (played by Jonathan French), who has recently been released from hospital and is suffering from partial memory loss. He ends up accepting a very odd job offer proposed by his former landlord, Barrett (Ben Caplan). The task is to look after his troubled young niece Olga (Leila Sykes) for about five days and for the more-than-reasonable sum of €200 per day. The girl lives in an abandoned house on an isolated island, where her father presumably committed suicide and one can only hear the cries of the foxes. Barrett manages to convince Isaac to restrict his movements there and leaves the two of them alone. This marks the beginning of a turbulent game of cat and mouse, which will see the man exploring the house and its secrets, fighting to survive and gradually recovering his memory. All of this is accompanied, from time to time, by the disturbing presence of a bunny rag doll playing the drum, whose beat sounds like an impending threat and an omen of death. The puppet is probably one of the most disquieting toys ever to have appeared in such a film, and if you have a pet rabbit yourself, you will not be able to look at it in the same way ever again.

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With limited resources, Mc Carthy manages to create a very atmospheric environment. The cinematography – courtesy of DoP Kieran Fitzgerald – is well crafted and rich in suggestive chiaroscuros layered upon the house’s torn wallpaper. The excellent visuals are supported by some great production design by Damian Draven (Twice Shy [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Cellar Door [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
). The bare environments of the place, located somewhere in Bantry, County Cork, and covered in mould, dirt and wild vegetation, possess a rare beauty (and creepiness).

The acting is another plus point: the chemistry among the trio is perhaps the film’s strongest feature, and Caplan, French and Sykes manage to successfully deliver the strange mix of schizophrenia, terror and ruthlessness that permeates their disturbed personalities.

Nonetheless, the overall pace of Caveat is irregular, and tends to slow down too much after the initial setup and Damian’s discovery of the bunny doll. Some narrative choices also seem rather unnatural, and one above all: Barrett seems to find it too easy to convince Isaac to chain himself up and restrict his movements, providing him with some very weak justifications.

In summary, the film surely possesses some promising elements – in particular, the great acting, the clever production design and skilful cinematography, as well as the director’s attempt to steer clear of the genre’s main clichés, such as the overuse of jump scares or overexplanatory diegetic music – but it fails to deliver a consistent, engaging narrative. The lack of tension in some parts risks discouraging the viewer, although this flaw is partially compensated for in the movie’s latter stages, leading up to the final reckoning.

Caveat was produced by Justin Hyne for London-based outfit HyneSight Films.

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