A man agrees to a highly unusual babysitting gig in this slow and only intermittently thrilling debut from director Damian McCarthy
It wouldn’t be right to say that the first half of Caveat, the feature debut from director Damian McCarthy, burns slowly; this would imply a steady, deliberate pace. The film’s first act, which takes more time than it needs to introduce a handful of stock characters, maunders. One finds it hard to imagine that anyone will stick with it beyond the first ten minutes. Which is a shame, because the second half, a creepy, cat-and-mouse chamber piece, boasts some startling, attention-grabbing moments. They’re just too few-and-far between for a ninety minute feature.
The gist of it all is this: Isaac (Jonathan French), a man suffering from partial memory loss, is employed by the sinister Barret – inhabited by Ben Caplan with all the lethargy of a shifty used car salesman, not least helped by his cheap, poorly cut suit – to look after his mentally unwell niece for a few days. We know what you’re thinking: another addition to the expansive horror canon based around dudes trying to make a quick buck and, well, you’d be right. In fairness to Isaac, though, it’s not until he arrives at the house that he realises it’s isolated on a remote island. And it’s not until he’s actually inside that he’s told, per the job requirements, he’ll have to chain himself to the floor, like a dog on a leash, to carry out his duties.
This is where logic goes out of the window, of course: one can’t imagine that, for all the money in the world, anyone would willingly shackle themselves to the floor of a dilapidated, remote, island-rooted shack. Such an endeavour can’t boast many employment benefits. And it gets worse, of course. The niece in question is something of a waif, drifting around the halls of what turns out to be her familial home – again, you’d think she’d stick a bit of wallpaper up – with a crossbow in tow.
At this point, you’re thinking: couldn’t Isaac have got a job at Morrisons, or something? He does put up something of a half-fight at the very beginning of it all, questioning – as he clearly should – not only the logic of it all, but why none of this had been in the job description. Well, to say he questions it might be generous; French mostly grumbles through his dialogue, his performance puppet-like in its rigidity. Not that the script deserves much better.
There’s the palpable sense throughout that not a lot of effort went into any of this. The lighting is very plain and does little to support the scares – if there’s one thing ubiquitous of good independent horror flicks, it’s good attention to lighting, often by way of creepy chiaroscuro. There’s little sense of directorial style. There are some interesting camera movements to break up what is, otherwise, a generally static shot design, but there are noticeable jutters when it pans; perhaps this is more a budgetary concern than a critique over craft, but it certainly doesn’t help a film that, otherwise, comes across as a bit lazy. Sure, the second half is decent, but like so many low-budget direct-to-PVOD flicks… well, it should’ve been a short.
Caveat is now available to stream on Shudder.Where to watch