The premise at the core of Caveat, the latest of the Shudder lineup to arrive on physical media, is a simple one. A mysterious, monosyllabic man (Jonathan French’s Isaac) heads to a haggard, isolated house in a lonely island to watch over the mentally unstable niece of his landlord, a girl called Olga. It’s reminiscent of the modernised haunted-house formula of Relic, and the domestic terror of The Boy, but Caveat sadly isn’t able to strike the same sort of chord. Instead, it’s a promising but hugely underwritten horror experience, that promises a lot more than it delivers.
That’s because more often than not, Caveat is unable to deliver on the potential carried in the premise. Isolation and claustrophobia are the key to director Damian Mc Carthy’s thesis: Isaac himself is clearly without anyone significant to him, and large portions of the film go by without much dialogue. It’s effectively conveyed in the early stages too, with strange paranormal events like randomly appearing objects or unexplainable noises, all creating the idea that while Isaac and Olga (a creepy performance from Leila Sykes) are seemingly alone in this home, something isn’t right.
But none of it quite sticks towards the second half, as Mc Carthy, who also penned the script, slowly unpeels the backstory behind this unsettling arrangement. Isaac has more skeletons in his closet than we’re led to believe, and French does a good job conveying his sudden onslaught of guilt and grief, but the script doesn’t do enough in the early stages to ever make us really care. The same can be said for Olga, who is developed little more than a mentally unstable woman prone to violence and terrifying outbursts. You end up caring for neither of them, or really understanding why you’re meant to – and when they’re the two main players throughout the film, it doesn’t bode well.
Initially, Caveat seems like it might lean into the paranormal ideas used so effectively by its contemporaries, but instead it soon becomes a rather methodical thriller. Late-stage twists do little to up the ante, there are so many interesting ideas left dangling that it becomes frustrating. The decrepit bunny doll that stands front and centre of the film’s marketing, and moves unguided like Chucky? You’ll never find out who it is, or why its appearance even matters.
It’s a real shame, because deep down, Caveat has some undeniably interesting ideas to play with. The music is effective in creating dramatic swells, and the way Mc Carthy uses the one-location setting is equally engaging, with some brilliant set design to portray a home that’s truly never seen love or attention. But nice visuals and some tense moments sadly aren’t enough to paper over the cracks elsewhere. Caveat‘s story is too barebones to engage audiences, and the characters too thin to make you care in the first place.
Instead, the film ends up as a watchable 90-minute frolic that’ll leave you rather unsatisfied, as you try piecing together the character motivations and overarching reasoning behind a lot of the film’s events. It’s one you’ll forget not long after, as it fails to imprint itself with the clever concepts that lurk deep down in the screenplay. It’s an unsatisfying and ultimately disappointing watch.
Caveat releases February 28, 2022 on Blu-Ray and Digital.