Caveat (2020)
June 5, 2021 4:06 PM - Subscribe

Isaac, recovering from amnesia, takes a job from his friend Moe Barret, whose troubled niece Olga needs looking after for a few days out in the family's isolated, abandoned house. Just a simple, straightforward job.

Mc Carthy shot "Caveat" on the proverbial shoestring, and this is in the film's favor. The darkness and long stretches of stillness create a palpable spookiness, a prolonged state of anxiety, without relying on any special effects, or quick-cut fancy camera moves. The film is nerve-racking, and a reminder of how much can be done on a low budget if one is inventive enough, certain enough in the story one wants to tell.
-- Sheila O'Malley,
Currently streaming on AMC+/Shudder
posted by fleacircus (6 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This movie is a pretty fun mix of like, creepy ghosts that cheat with reality, combined with the sort of like desperation problem solving and conflict of horror.

Which is a difficult thing to pull off! If the bad guy can cheat and is defined by cheating (like frex the mirror in Oculus) then in a way it makes everything a little pointless. If it can always read your mind and fool your senses what's the point of anything. Of course it doesn't have to be ghosts... lots of times a physical bad guy is given kind of ridiculous ninja teleport powers that can make them boring too.
posted by fleacircus at 9:12 AM on June 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

So, just to clarify... the mother was never actually dead, right? When Isaac first sees her in the basement he thinks he’s seeing her dead body, but I mean she doesn’t look remotely dead. This may be just a budgetary restraints SFX issue, but her eyeballs are wet and full and plump and clearly the eyeballs of a living person. So, she’s just being catatonic and mad in the cellar, right? I have a feeling the viewer is supposed to think she’s dead or a J-horror ghosty but I really hope that’s not the case as I can’t suspend my disbelief quite that much.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 5:50 PM on June 10, 2021

To be fair, I enjoyed many elements of this film. Something about it reminded me of Gareth Tunley’s The Ghoul (2016), though I’d say that’s a much more successful film.

I enjoy a slow burn, but Caveat eked out its OVERWHELMING ATMOSPHERE OF DREAD & DECAY to the point I lost interest several times. And its world doesn’t feel very real or coherent. I kept thinking: how is the dog still alive, no one’s feeding or watering it. How is the phone line still active in a house that decrepit? Is there running water? Is there any food except for that one ancient tin of spam? None of these things would bother me if I felt we were in a world orthogonal to reality, a dreamspace, whatever. Maybe that is what the film is aiming for and I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it? I should probably rewatch it.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 6:07 PM on June 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

My read was that the mother was dead and operating with ghost logic. There are definitely holes, like also, if there's a boat and it makes the island okay, well ... doesn't Moe just take the boat back away with him? It would have been improved with like a logistics pass, though to me the level of decay of the house was not entirely unrealistic, like the uncle has been paying the bills but no one has been doing any upkeep at all for many years.
posted by fleacircus at 7:01 PM on June 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I liked this as something which was more about mood and atmosphere than plot; the house was a nice creepy setting and I found the protagonist empathetic (which is a testament to Jonathan French's acting, as it seems like there's barely a character there at all in the script itself). The sound design and soundtrack were also pretty great. That being said, while I like an ambiguous movie, a lot of things just didn't quite come together for me and the pacing seemed to get worse over time. What happened to the protagonist's memory between the two timelines? Was he so terrified by the (ghostly?) mother that his memory got wiped? And then what is the uncle's plan, why does he bring our hero back to the island? What's the deal with the little toy horse-with-human-eyeballs? This isn't all supposed to be some kind of Hamlet thing, is it?

I do think the movie was smart to jump right in with the "random dude agrees to be chained up in a harness" business right at the start, since it sort of establishes a scale for the viewer's suspension of disbelief. Like, if you are not buying that the guy does that, there's nothing else for you in the movie anyways.
posted by whir at 3:38 PM on June 12, 2021

> What happened to the protagonist's memory between the two timelines? Was he so terrified by the (ghostly?) mother that his memory got wiped?

I think the protagonist was pushed over his own balcony by the uncle after returning from the island; the consequent brain injury resulted in partial amnesia. When the film opens, the protagonist has recently returned home from hospital (the uncle says ‘I came to see you in hospital after your accident, but but you didn’t know who I was’). It’s not very clear, though.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 4:15 PM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

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