Written & Directed by Damian McCarthy
Lynchian is a term that gets thrown around a little too liberally. It’s meant to denote that something is reminiscent of the work of filmmaker David Lynch, but it is often applied to either tv shows set in strange small towns or for media that is esoteric & quirky. The Lynch aesthetic is much more specific from my perspective, a way of telling stories in abstracted settings brimming with emotion & passion. People often behave in strange ways, and stories have elements of melodrama that take bleak turns. Not much I’ve seen has genuinely reminded me of that, but Caveat is actually a movie that lives up to the term. I won’t say Caveat is as masterfully delivered as Lynch’s films, but it is a decent horror movie that builds a unique atmosphere.
Isaac is approached by Barrett, a criminal type he’s done jobs for to do a rather strange one. Barrett’s niece, Olga, is at her isolated childhood home without supervision. She’s an adult, but due to the recent suicide of her father and Olga’s mental health issues, Barrett is insistent someone watches her for the next week until she leaves. Isaac needs the money and agrees, but he finds the house is located on an island when they arrive. Isaac will have no boat to come & go, and he doesn’t know how to swim.
Barrett assures him things will be fine. Once in the house, Isaac learns that he must wear a harness because of Olga’s paranoia over being attacked in her sleep. The device is chained to a ring in the basement and was initially made to prevent the family’s grandmother from wandering into the woods when she slept walk. This harness will apparently help Olga feel at ease with Isaac in the house. He can get almost everywhere except Olga’s room and a few other spots. But of course, that harness will prove to inhibit Isaac when things get bad.
Caveat creates a mood that drips with the same sense of dread found in Lynch’s work from the first scene. The house on the island reminds me of a lot of the liminal spaces Lynch presents. Think about the apartment in Lost Highway, Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive, or the Red Room in Twin Peaks. These are spaces our characters enter, yet reality feels like it melts away while they are in them. What happens in these places are both material and metaphor. We see many metaphysical things in the house on the island, but it’s not always meant to be literal.
There are classic elements of haunted house stories in this film as well. There’s a body in the walls, and you can be sure it is one of the restless dead. The script balances material threats with the supernatural ones very deftly. For most of the film, we’re concerned about the grounded problems in Isaac’s way: his physical restraint, the irrational behavior of Olga, being on an island in the middle of a lake. They all are tangible things that the audience can relate to, even if they haven’t experienced these conflicts specifically. We don’t like to be restrained or in unfamiliar places, especially isolated. These are important elements in the story, and you can’t expect to go right into supernatural jump scares and expect the audience to relate.
Caveat takes its time and builds an atmosphere. Even when those supernatural threats raise their head, it’s kept in the background and implied. The ending leaves a lot of details ambiguous. We don’t know exactly where the characters who made it out will end up. Secrets are revealed throughout the story that upends the power dynamics between Isaac, Barrett, and Olga. The audience is kept on their toes, trying to determine who is lying and who is telling the truth. Questions about memory are brought up, and an object that doesn’t seem like it should be in the house shows up.
Caveat is certainly not a perfect horror movie, and some parts feel underwritten. Overall, I felt the pacing stayed relatively snappy, and I loved how all the characters seemed off, another aspect I enjoy about David Lynch’s work. I don’t think Caveat has the depth of artistry that Lynch brings to a project; few things do. But it is undoubtedly a wonderful picture inspired by the way that the director makes his audiences feel.