Caveat is a slow-burn, yet unlike many others I’d label as such. This is not a film that leaves the viewer waiting until the final act for the payoff. There’s plenty of tension from beginning to end, with moments of calm that amplify the dread of what’s to come.
Writer/Director Darren McCarthy has created a film with a unique storyline. Not only that, but it’s atmospheric and packs a punch with some seriously unsettling moments. Caveat follows the story of Isaac (Jonathan French), a drifter who accepts a short-term job. Isaac is asked to look after a young woman, Olga (Leila Sykes), who lives alone following the death of her father. Her mother has been missing for months, and in the aftermath of these events, Olga suffers from psychological troubles.
Despite the red flags that pop up prior to and after arrival at the house, Isaac accepts the terms of the job. Olga’s uncle, Barret (Ben Caplan) is the one who hires him, claiming to be an old friend—yet Isaac has almost no recollection of their friendship due to partial memory loss.
Once inside the home, Barret informs Isaac that he must wear a locked vest attached to a chain which restricts his movement. This is apparently for Olga’s peace of mind and security, and it’s the first insanely creepy scene in the movie. From a creepy rabbit toy that drums in the presence of evil, to gruesome discoveries within the basement, there’s no shortage of terror. It’s also important to note that the house is isolated on an island, and Barret leaves with the only boat available for transportation.
The atmosphere comes alive through the screen. It’s dark, dreary, and claustrophobic. It’s a clever story that leaves the viewer with questions and the curiosity to continue the journey. While Barret seems like a seedy character, it soon becomes difficult to determine who’s telling the truth. Olga also becomes a threat to Isaac throughout his stay. This makes it tricky to determine the true villain.
We’re given glimpses into Isaac’s spotty memory. These moments mixed with Olga’s reports of past events provide some answers. Yet there is still some mystery that leaves viewers questioning what happened in the home and why Isaac was really hired for the job.
For a film set in a single location, with limited characters, Caveat is exceptionally well done. The fact that there’s consistent tension and solid acting creates a story that’s engaging and nerve-wracking. Jonathan French’s performance is very strong and carries the story. The combination of writing and directing from Darren McCarthy shows great promise. This film is definitely a contender for my best of 2021 list.
Caveat is available on Shudder as of June 3.
WICKED RATING: 8/10