Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shudder has quickly established itself as a vital streaming service for horror content. Their new original feature, Caveat, is yet another fantastic addition to the Shudder library. Damien McCarthy both writes and directs a chilling vision of terror, peppered with images that permanently burned their way into my brain. Soaked in atmosphere from start to finish, I was impressed with how much McCarthy is able to accomplish with his impressive feature debut.

Isaac (Jonathan French) is desperate for a job, and his old pal Barret (Ben Caplan) ropes him in for one that sounds imposing from the offset: come babysit his troubled niece Olga (Leila Sykes) in a dilapidated, old house. Olga is described as being mentally unwell, obsessive over her own safety, and often devolving into a catatonic state. As the two travel to the destination, Barret’s requests grow increasingly more bizarre. Isaac can’t swim, so the fact that the duo needs to take a small boat out to a lonely island is already throwing off red flags. When they get there, it gets even weirder—Isaac must wear a harness around the place, which will allow him access to every room except for Olga’s. Isaac reluctantly agrees to stay the night. It is not long before hidden secrets, holes in the walls, Olga’s condition, and the claustrophobic entrapment of the confines reveal that all is not as it appears.

Caveat gives little answers to its carefully-constructed world of curiosities. However, therein lies the brilliance of the script. Sometimes, the unknown is the most frightening of all. The slow-burn of the setup is filled with horrifying imagery, making the payoff in the final act stand out in its relentlessness. I can’t recall the last time a lone scene from a horror movie legitimately gave me chills (it was probably the final scene of 2020’s Shudder surprise, Host), but Caveat got me good. 

The drumming bunny is gorgeously constructed in all its dirty glory. Every time the drum beat kicks in, it instantly put me on edge. The use of shadow elevates every scare—I never knew what to expect around each corner. Damien McCarthy also plays with expectations in disturbing sequences that only reveal what Isaac sees. A painting drops and he moves it, only for it to be in different positions several times over. Another scene where Isaac puts his hat over a corpse sees a constant shift each time we see it again. The heart-pounding scares, solid acting performances, cat-and-mouse between Isaac and Olga, and exploration of its eerie setting makes Caveat a dark and mysterious horror treat. 

Caveat drums its way to Shudder on June 3rd.

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