Caveat (FrightFest 2020) review – stunning and simple rural horror

October 25, 2020 (Last updated: January 27, 2023)
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews


Nothing is as simple as it first seems to Isaac when he takes a few days’ work, and paranoia, unreliable memories and the unbalanced resident send him spiraling. Terrific debut film from Damian McCarthy.

Within the first fifteen minutes, I felt sure Caveat would be appearing in my top ten list this year. I’m not sure if that was down to the style in general, or simply the mechanical bunny.

On the surface, Caveat is a simple story about Isaac (Jonathan French), a man without roots, purpose, or money. Barret (Ben Caplan) offers Isaac a decent sum to go and stay at his late brother’s house and keep an eye on his niece Olga (Leila Sykes) for a few days but doesn’t really go into the conditions until he gets there. Then Barret leaves, and Isaac gets to know Olga.

I realize that doesn’t sound exactly inspiring, but I loved the characters, the setting, the unbusy, unhurried storytelling, the unfolding complexity, and the score that felt like part of the walls of the house. Filmed in very rural Cork, Ireland, Caveat reminded me of The Woman in Black at first, with Isaac being introduced receiving his assignment and then going to a remote house, etc.; and after a while, it seemed strangely more reminiscent of Kill List, in the way said assignment takes our protagonist on a bizarre misadventure. Damian McCarthy, writer and director, blends both halves into a whole beautifully, and just as he hoped, I do indeed want to watch it again right now.

Considering Caveat is the first feature for both McCarthy and French, it’s a gobsmacking achievement. The atmosphere is everything in this film: right from the opening – when we see Olga with a bloody face, holding her bunny – nothing and no-one is quite right, everything off balance, either a little or a lot. There are no jump scares, no exaggerated reactions, unrealistic heroes, or witty gags: Caveat is made up of rural, almost theatrical suspense, rather than sensational horror. It works: I was drawn into that house, into Isaac’s anxiety, and reluctant to leave either. It wasn’t that I sympathized with Isaac, or wanted to console him, but I felt like I was him by the end.

The cinematography by Kieran Fitzgerald (the first feature for him, too) cemented the writing so that whether they were wide daylight shots or claustrophobic night-time scenes, I was captivated at the same time as my skin was crawling with nerves. What few special effects were added complemented his style rather than jarring.

Honestly, the whole team, the whole package deserves applause. The UK premiere is at FrightFest on 25 October 2020, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

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