Caveat [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Acorn Media
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (20th March 2022).
The Film

Just released from the hospital after an accident, Isaac (Jonathan French) is tracked down by his landlord Moe Barrett (Call the Midwife's Ben Caplan) with the offer of a short but well-paid personal job: babysitting his adult niece Olga (Leila Sykes) who suffers from psychological problems and has isolated herself at the cottage where her father (i>Conor Dwane) recently committed suicide and her mother (Inma Pavon) went missing eight months earlier. Upon arrival, Isaac is more perturbed that the cottage is on an island since he cannot swim than the titular caveat of the job: that Isaac wears a chained harness previously used by Moe's sleepwalking grandmother that will restrict his access to certain parts of the house due to Olga's debilitating fears of being attacked. After placing the key in Olga's room, Moe leaves and Isaac explores the cottage, discovering that the chain is attached to a welded ring in the cellar. Crossbow-brandishing Olga is not as catatonic as she first seemed, informing Isaac that her mad mother locked her claustrophobic father in the harness and that he killed himself after he was locked in the cellar in the dark. When Isaac discovers Olga's mother's mummified body pierced with an arrow in a crawlspace, he believes Olga is more dangerous than she first appeared, and Moe may not have his best interests in mind after he tells him about the body.

The feature debut of short horror filmmaker Darin McCarthy, Caveat has some indelibly creepy trailer-ready imagery and a simple concept that effectively convey themselves in the "pitch" of a trailer but becomes muddled in execution. Between a swift setup and a fitfully-creepy finale, the film just ambles along and feels overlong at just under ninety minutes like some portfolio piece of polished horror visuals to be the next fresh meat snapped up by Hollywood to hopefully inject some originality to the umpteenth Insidious or Paranomral Activity sequel (one imagines that McCarthy would have been snapped up to helm something equally watered-down but more entertaining at the height of the Dimension Films/Artisan Entertainment horror heyday). The horror element makes for some creepy if overfamiliar moments in terms of visuals and sound design but seems largely superfluous to the thriller element of the story. What appears at first to be a simple but effective final scare set piece gives way to a more conventional climax with what should be the apex of horror reduced to a simple "Boo!" Although the film is structured in a manner that calls into question the memory of the protagonist and the veracity of what the other characters tell him, things become even more muddled than clarified the more characters speak including the chronology of the two murders, to which of three family members Olga was closest and which she hated, and the resolution suggests that "conduit" might have made a more appropriate title than the absurd titular caveat that really does not seem to restrict the protagonist's ability to move about the house or make him more vulnerable to forces human or otherwise. The film is less impressive as a debut in narrative or visual terms than as a near-DIY project that took roughly three years to complete from shooting to editing.
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Video

The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 widescreen Blu-ray absolutely identical to RLJ Entertainment's American Blu-ray bar the region coding looks quite slick for a low budget film shot with a skeleton crew of part-time filmmakers over an extended period with deep blacks and with lighting temperature used to interesting effect, with chilly daylight exteriors, tungsten, and fluorescent sources effecting the pallor of the characters, while flashlights during the climax distinguish skin tones between the living and the very dead.
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Audio

The only feature audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is generally front-oriented with subtle use of the surrounds for a film with jump scares, which is refreshing and gives the bare story a more intimate feel. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
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Extras

The film is accompanied by a pair of audio commentary tracks which should really have been one joint session. The first is an audio commentary by writer/director/editor Damian McCarthy who recalls the shoot as "not a great experience" while he worked as an electrician by day and edited the film over a period of years with the support of his parents, shooting in the older parts of the historical Bantree House, and changing the original title from "The Harness" to Caveat because he liked the graphic of the V in the title design. He also talks about "chopped" scenes including a ten minute introduction to the main character that established some themes for the film but just went on too long, which he rather pretentiously compares to the removal of the mainland scenes for the director's cut of The Wicker Man. The audio commentary by producer Justin Hyne covers a lot of the same ground while adding some detail here and there, mentioning that the coach house of Bantree House was large enough that the production was able to construct interior sets as well as some discussion of the leatherwork artist who created the harness.
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Also included is a "Storyboards" (91:12) which is actually an interesting split-screen comparison of the finished film and the storyboards which not only shows how much planning McCarthy put into the film but also how some of the visuals evolved in production (including some head on shots of the characters in the storyboards that are lent depth through foreground or background elements in the film. The menu is preceded by a "Shudder" startup promo (1:07) familiar from several releases.

Overall

Caveat is less impressive as a feature debut in narrative or visual terms than as a remarkably consistent-looking near-DIY project that took roughly three years to complete from shooting to editing.

 


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