CAVEAT *****

Directed by Damian McCarthy.

Starring Ben Caplin, Leila Sykes, Jonathan French.

Horror, UK, 89 minutes.


Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Digital Edition 2.


A woman walks into a dark, dilapidated room brandishing a creepy rabbit doll that plays a small drum kit, guiding her to a hole in a wall. As an opening scene it grabs the attention, setting the sinister, off kilter tone for CAVEAT, an atmospheric and nightmarish tale of madness and mystery. As a debut film for director Damian McCarthy it also stands out as an equally impressive and unique effort that promises a distinctive career ahead.


Atmosphere is all with CAVEAT but luckily there is also an intriguing and engaging storyline that captures the viewer’s attention throughout its tricky storyline. Bearded and dishevelled Isaac, is asked for a favour by his friend Barret to look after his niece Olga. Swayed by the money on offer, Isaac is soon dismayed that the seemingly simple job comes with a number of extra conditions he does not learn off until it is too late. Olga’s residence on a small private island is enough to give non-swimmer Isaac pause but he then fully regrets his decision when he is outfitted with an ancient looking leather harness and chain that will limit his movements around the old, ruined house for Olga’s and his own safety.


Isaac’s task becomes more mysterious and dangerous as he begins to uncover disturbing secrets that could be the key to Olga’s tenuous sanity and even to Isaac’s own as he begins to realise that there are gaps in his own memory that could be linked to something dreadful in the deep, dark cellar.

CAVEAT comes across like a crime mystery told through a Jan Svankmajer lens; Olga’s toy drum playing rabbit with its angry eyes and worn out coat looks like it stepped straight out one of the directors’ nightmarish stop motion films. The house itself with its peeling wallpaper and claustrophobic, maze like structure has its own run down and sinister atmosphere that is reminiscent of Matthew Holness’s POSSUM. The cinematography by Kieran Fitzgerald impressively captures all of this haunting detail giving it a chilly and damp atmosphere that seeps off the screen.


While the location can often feel like a character in and of itself the cast acquit themselves just as well. As Olga and Isaac sneak around each other their paranoia, confusion and quiet panic are nicely conveyed by Leila Sykes and Jonathan French’s performances. French does especially well with his quiet protagonist when the use of flashbacks are employed revealing a very different character than the one we first meet, a facet of his personality that adds more to the films number of mysteries.


As certain revelations come to light, the films malevolent and possibly supernatural nature increases more and more in intensity. McCarthy, directing from his own script, keeps the viewer guessing and on edge up until its tense conclusion that contains its own share of terrifying and eerie visuals. While he has to work with a low budget, McCarthy manages to make the most of his location and atmosphere which in turn helps elevate his story. In a strong roster of debut films that also played at this year’s FrightFest, CAVEAT stood out with its own distinctive visual style and wickedly playful storyline. It may also have gifted us with the most iconic figure of the festival in that bug eyed, drum playing rabbit which looks ready made to drum its way deep down into your own psyche.


Iain MacLeod.


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