‘Caveat’ review: demonic toy rabbit should have stayed in its hole

This gothic Irish horror looks like it offers something different – but doesn’t really

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    There are two cinematic rabbits vying for the attention of your eyeballs right now – but which do you choose, the stuffed bunny in horror Caveat, or Peter Rabbit 2, who’s bounced into reopened cinemas? The dog-eared old toy in Caveat acts as a kind of dead body divining rod, bashing away at his little drum when in the presence of a hidden cadaver. Peter Rabbit is played by James Corden. So yeah, we’ll take the corpse-sniffer, ta.

    Another Shudder Original, streaming on the horror service now, Caveat is an entry into a growing but possibly nameless genre in which a person haplessly signs up to ‘babysit’ someone or something that isn’t a baby. Think Brahms, the porcelain doll, in The Boy (2016), or the emaciated old woman in indie-horror god Ty West’s House Of The Devil (2009).

    Here, the babysitter is bearded bloke Isaac, played by Jonathan French, who single-handedly brings pathos and humanity to director Damian McCarthy’s occasionally wobbly movie. He’s hired by Barret, played like a spivvy background actor in Only Fools And Horses by Ben Caplan, to look after his grown-up sister, Olga, played by Leila Sykes, who somehow portrays the troubled, imprisoned hermit with less acting ability than the stuffed bunny.

    The alarm bells begin to ring for Isaac when Barret rows him over to the family home on a remote Irish island. The bells become deafening when Barret insists Isaac wears a leather harness padlocked to a chain anchored in the basement of the creepy old house. Isaac reluctantly agrees – he’s down on his luck, having recently lost his memory.

    The early scenes, in which Isaac is exploring the house, unable to step beyond its boundaries, will strike fear into the hearts of most viewers as it’s essentially the COVID lockdown experience writ large, even if most of us hopefully weren’t trapped in a house with a person who carries a crossbow around.

    So, we have a man with no memories trapped in a house he may have visited before, a missing mother, a haunted toy, a creepy brother and a woman whose ‘I’m mad me’ performance sets the mental health conversation back a couple of years. It is, undoubtedly, a fine set of players on the chess board of horror, but none of them seem to be playing the same game. The mystery being uncovered misses beats left right and centre, even if the bunny drums like John Bonham, and you’ll probably find yourself losing interest right when the action should be reaching its thrilling climax. Caveat: maybe you should give Peter Rabbit 2 a go after all?

    Details

    • Director: Damian McCarthy
    • Starring: Jonathan French, Leila Sykes, Ben Caplan
    • Release date: June 3 (Shudder)
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