CAVEAT **** UK 2020 Dir: Damian Mc Carthy. 88 mins
Irish filmmaker Damian Mc Carthy makes his feature debut with a shivery, stripped-down exercise in dread, fulfilling the promise of earlier short films like HE DIES AT THE END (2010). There’s a genuine frisson of fear from the start, as the mentally unstable Olga (Leila Sykes) descends into a basement while an ominously drumming, sinister toy bunny catches our eye. Bedraggled drifter Isaac (Jonathan French) accepts a £200-a-day “babysitting” job from his pal, the young woman’s uncle Barrett (Ben Caplan). There are hints of schizophrenia, despite Barrett’s claims that she’s harmless, and it’s clear that her Dad’s recent suicide has had a major impact. The “caveat” of the title: while staying at Olga’s creepy, isolated island house, he has to wear a human leash due to her innate fear of being attacked in her sleep. Barrett notes “Every job has a uniform…”
Mc Carthy makes the most of his limited resources, sustaining an oppressive atmosphere via portentous sound design (note the recurring sound of the local fox family) and the central house itself, from which the narrative almost never diverts. Much of the movie is a two-hander as time fractures and Olga’s flashbacks unveil a traumatic upbringing, while the beleaguered Isaac’s existing paranoia is frazzled further by eerie whispers, odd paintings and mounting claustrophobia.
The clever narrative structure keeps us on our toes, undermining what we thought we knew and what we might otherwise expect. There are well-timed (but not over-indulged) jump scares and an emphasis on nightmarish individual images rather than visceral set pieces. Well-acted by the tiny cast, it’s an intense confirmation of its rising writer-editor-director’s obvious talents.
Review by Steven West