Jonathan French plays Isaac, a troubled drifter who accepts a job on a remote island looking after Moe’s (Ben Caplan) even more troubled niece Olga (Leila Sykes). The catch is, Isaac must wear a harness that allows him access to only certain parts of the house. This is to make Olga feel comfortable and safe, but something isn’t right with the house. What follows is a terrifying ordeal for everyone involved.

Shudder

Caveat premiered on the horror streaming service Shudder in June 2021 to mostly positive buzz. Caveat is the feature film debut of writer-director Damian McCarthy and as such, a very accomplished one. It’s tense and at times genuinely terrifying and spine-tingling, even if the whole thing never quite comes together by the time the credits roll. 

French accurately and efficiently portrays the constant sense of unease within Isaac, who suffers from memory loss. Even before Isaac sets foot into the seemingly haunted or perhaps cursed house, there is something inside Isaac that’s not quite right. Leila Sykes is equally effective as Olga, but her job mostly consists of lurking and standing silently.

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The production and sound design do most of the heavy lifting in Caveat. The house looks and feels creepy; you can practically smell the mould and rotten staleness in the air from your own sofa. There are strange, subtle noises that make you feel like something unnatural hides in the shadows or inhabits the walls, constantly present and waiting to strike. Olga also carries around a bunny toy that is guaranteed to give you nightmares. There is a specific focus on eyes; both the bunny toy and a painting have eyes that seem to look deep into both Isaac and the viewer’s soul, but the question is what do those terrifyingly large eyes see within us? 

Caveat is ultimately let down by its story and conclusion. It never finds that higher gear, it slows when it should speed up and the ending simply isn’t satisfactory. The human relationships aren’t explored enough for them to carry any weight and to add to the conflict and more supernatural elements. Caveat is still an assured and promising debut for McCarthy. With a bit of fine tuning, we have an exciting new genre voice in our hands. 

Caveat is available on digital on Blu-Ray on February 28