Damian McCarthy’s Caveat

Trust Ireland to give us what for me now stands as the scariest film I’ve seen since Ari Aster’s Hereditary. I realize that is the boldest of claims and before anyone chimes in with the obligatory “welL HEridiTARy didntT scAre me And wasNT evEn thAT GOoD”, just keep in mind there are many of us who were scared piss-less by it and keep your edginess to yourself. Damian McCarthy’s Caveat is a brand new addition from Shudder, an Irish mood piece with some unique ideas, atmosphere so thick you could choke on it and some of the most skin crawling, sleep with the lights on moments of sheer terror I’ve seen in many a moon. I didn’t say it was a perfect film and the plot, such as it is, is kind of a murky one in areas but best I could surmise it is: a shady English dude (Ben Caplan) hires an also somewhat shady Irish dude (Jonathan French) with amnesia to babysit his adult niece on an isolated island cabin. The girl has some form of schizophrenia of schizo-affective disorder and is out of it most of the time, but one of the conditions of this well paid for agreement is that Irish dude must wear a leather harness attached to a chain that prevents him from entering certain areas of the house, to make the disturbed girl feel safer… I guess? It’s a premise with so many loaded questions attached that you just kind of have to surrender to the atmosphere and experience, and it’s here that the film not only shines but unearths something almost profoundly spooky. There are ghosts in the film, and they are so scary you’ll wish I’d never recommended this to you. You know that special feeling after you’ve watched a film that genuinely, tangibly provoked real fear in you and you have immediate, dread soaked regret that you ever watched it? Yeah I got that from this one, which is rare for me these days and it may not hit for everyone like that but for me it was effective in that elemental, hair raising way. There is an actual plot to the film and although I wasn’t entirely clear on all the ins, outs and beats it did feel like it was trying to impart a discernible narrative while still being a decidedly arthouse mood-board experience. There’s also a creepy little toy rabbit, as you can see by the poster, and he serves as both a mascot of sorts and also a proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ device, as he seems to beat his little drums with relative sentience whenever it feels like malevolent forces are near. The eerie score, suffocating abandoned house atmosphere and deliberately spatial camera movements all place you right in the front seat of terror and apprehension as you wander the mildewed halls and decrepit rooms of this broken down house and encounter things you really could have done without seeing at 2am when you’re alone in your own house and the cat is making noise somewhere. It’s a staggeringly well made film for a first time director and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Terrifying, immersive, hypnotically unsettling, a fully realized horror experience that will fuel the darkest of nightmares. Streaming now on Shudder.

-Nate Hill


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