GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Damian McCarthy.
Starring Jonathan French, Leila Sykes, Ben Caplan, Conor Dwane.
Horror, Ireland, 88 mins, cert 15.
Released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from Acorn Media International on 28th February. RRP £19.99.
It’s always frustrating when you take on a seemingly simple, too good to be true, job only to then find out there’s a few caveats to it. Admittedly most are luckier than Isaac (whose job’s caveats include potentially being hit by a crossbow, getting menaced by a sinister motorised drumming rabbit and stumbling upon hidden corpse cupboards) in Damian McCarthy’s sublimely creepy movie debut CAVEAT, that had its UK premiere at the October 2020 Digital edition of FrightFest and is now finally seeing a release on physical media courtesy of Acorn Media International.
CAVEAT sees amnesiac drifter Isaac (Jonathan French) given a job by his shifty friend Moe (Ben Caplan) that involves babysitting Moe’s mentally unstable adult niece Olga (Leila Sykes). This is where we get the titular caveat because Olga is living in an isolated and derelict house in the middle of a tiny island and, in case that wasn’t unpalatable enough, whilst in the house Isaac must wear a locked leather harness connected to a chain that restricts his movements to only certain rooms so as to not disturb the fragile Olga. And the scariest bit of all this is that the chain isn’t quite long enough to reach the loo and so he has to do his business outside under the judging watch of a morose dog. As Isaac does his best to settle in, he encounters sinister whisperings, portraits that fall of the wall in the middle of the night and slowly he begins to release that he may have visited this house before…
It’s a well-trodden horror set-up (a lone person takes on a mysterious job that involves staying in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere) but McCarthy adds enough flourishes to ensure that CAVEAT feels like very much its own thing.
The tone of the film is profoundly unsettling right from eerie opening of Olga, bloodied and dishevelled, showing her creepy rabbit toy around the decaying house and there’s some truly nightmarish imagery that crops up later on that I won’t spoil.
Speaking of the rabbit, it’s an excellently unnerving prop, looking like the exhumed corpse of the Duracell bunny. Everyone involved in the location scouting, prop creation and set design deserve special kudos as it’s uniformly fantastic, feeling genuine and yet slightly off in an uncanny, disturbing way.
After all the positives, now is time for my main caveat regarding CAVEAT. In the final act the film does get a bit too wilfully ambiguous and surreal which leaves the eventual conclusion not being entirely satisfying enough for my tastes. It’s not so big an issue that it undoes the good stuff that came before but I was admittedly a little disappointed.
In terms of the Blu-ray release, the only special features included are two audio commentaries (one by the director and one by the producer) but these days even getting a commentary is rare, especially for smaller scale films, and so it’s certainly nice to have something.
Overall, this is an incredibly impressive debut from Damian McCarthy and I will be intrigued to see what he does next. It’s genuinely unsettling, consistently inventive, well-paced and features the best on screen bunny since Roger Rabbit. Definitely worth a watch.