Streaming this week on Shudder is Caveat, a new, unique horror film written and directed by award-winning Irish filmmaker Damian Mc Carthy. While Caveat is his feature debut, Damian has previously directed multiple acclaimed short films.
Filmed in Cork, Ireland, Caveat follows a loner named Isaac (Jonathan French), who accepts a job looking after his landlord’s niece in an isolated house on a remote island. Thinking it’ll be an easy way to earn some money, Isaac accepts the offer, only to learn there is a disturbing catch: He must wear a leather harness and chain that restricts his movement to certain rooms of the house.
From there, things quickly start to spiral out of control as Isaac realizes there might be much more to this job than he originally bargained for. We had the chance to chat with Damian about how he came up with the idea for the film, what it was like to work on a feature versus a short film, and much more!
An interview with Caveat director Damian Mc Carthy
1428 Elm: To get started, it looks like Caveat is your first feature film? What was it like for you to approach this film versus the short films you’ve directed?
Damian Mc Carthy: Well, the short films I’ve made were very simple horror short films, in terms of, there was no dialogue, they were pretty much written from what I had available to me. So say I had an interesting location, I would write the story around that, or if I had an interesting prop, again it would be done like that, and the shorts have all done well, they’ve won awards and traveled to festivals.
But even though they all had done well, it was still hard to get into feature films because it all comes down to financing, and no one’s willing to take a chance on you. So when it came to writing the feature film, it was very much done the same way in terms of what I had access to and what could I tell a story around what was available, and that was pretty much the start of it.
1428 Elm: Caveat has everything, a creepy basement, a scary doll, an isolated island, an abandoned house –– it seems like you might have pulled from multiple sources for inspiration.
Damian Mc Carthy: Yeah, I had said before when we were first pitching the film and trying to make it, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to make more than one film, so I thought, well, if I only get to make one I want to put all the things in it that I find creepy or the things I would like to see on screen.
I mean, it is filled with those horror tropes, the haunted toy, the spooky basement, but I’d like to think I would have been taking those things that have been seen in other horror films and putting my own angle on them, trying to do something original with them. So whether or not I’ve succeeded, we’ll see when the film releases but so far, so good, people seem to like it.
1428 Elm: Yeah, I think you succeeded with that. It features a lot of things I haven’t seen before. I’m especially curious where the idea for Isaac having to wear a leather harness and chain around the house came from.
Damian Mc Carthy: I think that came from, if you see any horror film, it’s like why don’t they leave the house? The house is haunted. Just leave! I mean, there have been some very creative ways of keeping the hero trapped in the house like Evil Dead 2, the bridge it out, you know whatever it is, The Vigil had a very good one where he can’t leave the dead body alone.
So for this, it was like, let’s chain him to a house on an island and then there is definitely no escape [Laughs]. Plus, I thought it would look visually interesting this guy who has willfully put on this leather harness and chain that won’t let him go into a specific room and that conversation of trying to convince somebody that is in desperate need of money to wear this thing I just thought to watch two actors play that out would be interesting to watch and thankfully I had good actors, so it was.
1428 Elm: It seemed like you guys mostly filmed in just one location for this shoot.
Damian Mc Carthy: Yes, so I’m from West Cork in the southwest of Ireland, and it’s all sets, 70-80% of what you see on screen is a set.
1428 Elm: I was going to ask that because to me, it looked like a real, creepy house.
Damian Mc Carthy: It does. Yeah, my production designer and the set builder did a great job. Again because we had such a little budget, the stuff we used was stuff we had to find. There were many times we were raiding skips and landfill sites. I thought it would look great on camera because it’s all rotten timber and old.
Everything was so old and worn. There was a real sense of decay in it, which made sense because it’s this house on an island that should be falling apart. Then there were one or two rooms that existed on the location, and I think the kitchen and something else that we blended together.
1428 Elm: Did you guys actually film on an island, or was that also a construct?
Damian Mc Carthy: No, the island was just a place in West Cork that we set it up that they’re going on there, but we never actually land on the island.
1428 Elm: When creating the story, did anything change in the process, or did Caveat come out exactly as it started in your head?
Damian Mc Carthy: It’s different, there is a great filmmaking lesson that I read before, that you make three films, the one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you edit, and this was very much that I wrote the script and it was a much fatter script there was a lot more backstory before they reach the island and more interaction in the apartment.
There is a lot more digging into Isaac’s past, and you know you shoot this stuff, and some of it works, and some of it doesn’t then you get into the edit, and it’s that Sam Raimi rule, the number one of rule filmmaking is that it should entertain. So, then you cut as much out of the film as possible.
I think it was The Wicker Man there’s like, that film begins with him landing on the island, but apparently, there was this whole 20 minutes before the guy even gets to the island. I think once they watched the film, they were like, nobody cares about this, just get him to the island, which is how I approached this film, just get him into the island and get him into the harness, let’s get going.
1428 Elm: One thing I always like to ask people that make horror films, did anything weird or creepy happen while you guys were shooting?
Damian Mc Carthy: Let me see, bats continued to fly into the set where we were filming. I guess it was an old shed of the house, so there was a lot of hitting the floor in the middle of scenes. You know you duck down as bats fly over. Of course, my cameraman is very brave and laidback, and he was like the only one standing like, yeah, it’s just a bat, don’t worry. I think I tried to film it once because I thought it would look cool.
1428 Elm: To wrap up, is there anything, in particular, you hope audiences walk away from the film thinking or feeling?
Damian Mc Carthy: I would just hope they enjoy it. You know you hope that it would be a film that they would find on Shudder and it will be an entertaining 90 minutes and it’ll be exciting and give them a scare and maybe something to talk to afterward, I’d be happy with that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caveat begins streaming on Shudder on June 3.