SCENE: Generic “horror movie” sitting room — rough-hewn Irish doorjambs, stained, peeling and faded wallpaper with “shadows” of items formerly hung on it, a withered wreath and a sinister painting illuminated by a single, battered table lamp on a battered table.
ENTER: A young woman, a dead-eyed teen in a nightgown, holding an even more sinister rabbit drummer toy in front of her.
As it approaches this corner or that doorway, the nightmarish rabbit bangs its drum and the girl’s nose bleeds.
It the toy possessed? Is it a boogeyman detector, clicking like a Geiger counter at the presence of danger?
“Caveat” takes that promising set-up and doesn’t manage much more than that for frights. A psychological thriller with supernatural touches, Damian McCarthy’s Irish production is about darkness and memories, grudges and guilt. And much of it — far too much — takes place in the basement or behind the walls of this remote old house on an Irish island.
It’s so static that it’s frustrating, more spooky than actually scary.
Isaac (Jonathan French) is just “getting out” of a hospital, we assume. He’s had…issues. Is Barret (Ben Caplan) his only friend, or a friend at all?
He’s got a job,” baby-sitting” he calls it. His brother’s daughter needs looking after. She’s a teenager, and Barret confesses that “She’s got some psychological problems,” when half-pressed. But as he’s offering “200 a day,” even an Isaac fresh out of a hospital smells a rat.
“There’s got to be more to it than that.”
No no. Well, her Dad killed himself.
Then they meet for the drop off. Olga, it turns out, lives in a remote house on an island.
“You never said anything about an island!“
“I can’t SWIM.”
And after Barret rows him across, he hands over this leather straight-jacket looking thing. A “uniform, like” Barret coos.
“That’s not a uniform. It’s a LEASH. And I’m not wearing it!”
But wear it Isaac does, complete with a chain that reaches all the way into the basement where catatonic Olga (Leila Sykes) lives. Barret offers just a final word or two of explanation.
Nothing else lives here, save for foxes. When they cry, they sound like teenage girls.
“Ever heard a fox cry? Or a teenage girl?”
Isaac has a hard time processing that question as he settles in to his “five day” babysitting gig, strapped into a leather straightjacket, easily creeped-out by the noises, the odd peep holes in the walls, and Olga, who isn’t as catatonic as Uncle Barret maintains.
Much of “Caveat” — entirely too much — is set in darkness — light piercing through holed walls, a basement which may offer “answers,” a crackling old intercom that allows the two to communicate, once they establish Olga can speak. Figuring out she has a crossbow, that this “Dad’s suicide” story has more to it, and how her mother and others fit into it might add up to a compact, compelling thriller.
It never does. There are long, slow-moving explorations and encounters, attempted escapes and acts of violence, a mystery that has several possibilities as to who is “guilty” of putting Olga in this spot and in this fix, and by extension, who wants Isaac there.
It’s all rather less than the sum of its horrific parts. But damn, that fox “crying” sound effect is chilling. And that rabbit toy? Bring that into the “Annabelle/Insidious/Amityville” universe and we’ll talk.
Cast: Jonathan French, Leila Sykes, Ben Caplan
Credits: Scripted and directed by Damian McCArthy A Shudder release.