Interview With ‘Caveat’ Director Damian Mc Carthy

After watching the 2020 film, Caveat, I was a bit obsessed with finding out more about the filmmakers behind the scenes. I had so many inquiries, like finding out where that insane drumming rabbit toy came from. The Cork, Ireland native was kind enough to take time out of his busy day to sit down and answer some of my questions on Caveat, filming, and the mystery of that terrifying toy.

PopHorror: Caveat is your first feature after doing quite a few shorts. What’s the difference between creating a short and creating a full length film?

Damian Mc Carthy: Short films take a lot less preparation. They’re a little bit more disposable, too. Well, mine are, anyway. You have one set piece that could be a very two dimensional thing. But a feature film takes more planning and a lot more funding. Your story has to be a lot more engaging to last the 90 minutes, more of a three act structure. Although short films have that sort of three act structure sometimes, too, but the full feature storyline is definitely more of a challenge.

PopHorror: I always think of a short as having one act and a feature to be more of a three act story. In a short, you don’t get the characterization or the buildup. It’s one event that just happens.

Damian Mc Carthy: Yeah, yeah. And I think it would be hard to make a feature film with a two-dimensional character. I look at my short films and those characters had no dialogue, no names. Just a person in a situation, like a horror set piece, I suppose.

PopHorror: I watched Caveat, and I thought it was very creepy.

Damian Mc Carthy: Oh, thank you.

PopHorror: That rabbit? Holy cow! Where the heck did that thing come from?

Damian Mc Carthy: (laughs) I’m not sure if you can see my camera, but I have him right here.

PopHorror: (gasps) Dude! Look at his little drum!

Damian Mc Carthy, Caveat, rabbit
Damian Mc Carthy and his rotten rabbit from ‘Caveat.’

Damian Mc Carthy: (laughs) There he is! Yeah, I had made a short film a few years ago that featured windup toys, and I thought they were very interesting to work into the edit. I thought it was interesting to think about these inanimate objects that seem to have this consciousness. There’s just something about them. So they just worked themselves into the story. I thought it would be a cool image of a girl with a bloody nose being lead around in a spooky house with something that was trying to guide her. As for the actual construction of the rabbit itself, I had bought a windup toy online, and I had stripped all of the fur off of it. I tried to make something that looked old and decayed looking. I didn’t do a very good job of it, so I brought it to a person who works in the theater here in Cork, Lisa Zagone. Lisa makes a lot of costumes and props. So I brought her the bunny, and I showed her all of this stuff I had found on eBay, and this old stop-motion Czech movie which is Alice In Wonderland and the bunny that I found, who was creepy because he already looked old and worn. I asked her to imagine that the bunny had once been in good condition, but it had been sitting there and getting old and moldy and falling apart, a bit like the house itself over the years. And she came back with this. I couldn’t be happier with it.

PopHorror: It’s amazing. The way the eyes just follow you around the room…

Damian Mc Carthy: Yeah (laughs).

Jonathan French, Caveat
Jonathan French as Isaac in ‘Caveat’

PopHorror: Caveat has a little bit of a supernatural element to it. It’s mostly a psychological film. You have Isaac [Jonathan French], who doesn’t really know what’s going on. And then there’s Olga [Leila Sykes], who sometimes seems psychologically damaged but at others, it’s almost as if she’s faking it. There’s the uncle who keeps changing his story. But you also have the bunny that seems almost possessed, and then the end and what’s found behind the wall, which I won’t spoil. I like the way the basement scenes were filmed in near total darkness, and all you could see was what the flashlight showed.

Damian Mc Carthy: That was something that I was worried about when we were actually filming it. My cinematographer, Kieran Fitzgerald, he’s from here in Cork where I’m from. He was really brave with the lighting. If you’ve looked at some horror films, the room is supposed to be really dark, but you can see every inch of it. If they were to turn off their lights, then you can still see everything. With this one light source… At times, that was our only light source. If it was a lamp, then that was what we were using. Sometimes for background, you’d use a little bit of filler. You try to never have it be visually boring to look at. But for those scenes of horror where it is supposed to be dark and he’s supposed to be lost in either the basement or under the house or in some dark room, it was really just his lights and bounce boards, trying to keep it interesting that way.

It can backfire when you get into the grades. You can find that you can’t actually see anything. I know there was a Game of Thrones episode that got a lot of backlash that it was underlit. But so far, we haven’t had any criticism with people not being able to see what’s going on, which was always a worry.

PopHorror: I agree, the cinematographer did a great job! It gives you this feeling like you’re not really watching a movie, like you said. And the person with the flashlight… you can see their face, and you’re like, “Okay, cool.” But when all you can see is what he can see, anything could be going on around him. What’s happening back there the dark? That’s so terrifying! And so relatable.

Caveat, Damian Mc Carthy
Still from ‘Caveat’

Damian Mc Carthy: Yeah, it just puts you on edge. It’s a primal fear of what you know and what’s around when you’re alone.

PopHorror: Exactly! Because, oh my goodness, it could be anything! Where did the idea for this film come from?

Damian Mc Carthy: It’s like my short films in a way. It just starts with an image, or it starts with something that either I would find scary or that I would just find visually interesting. I always like Guillermo del Toro’s take on screenwriting where he said, “Well, just start with images, you know? Start with something that you think would look cool and build out from that.” So that’s kind of what I’ve done. The story of this film comes from an image that I came up, which was a girl with a bloody nose being led around by this old, creepy, drumming bunny and a guy with a big beard and a leather harness and a chain who’s going about his day in the house. I have all these ideas. I put them all together and just tried to build a story around them. That’s usually how I find my way into into a script or into a story.

And then I guess the actual story itself is about a character who’s missing gaps in his memory. He’s done things he can’t remember. Nobody really, in the film, is all that reliable. The guy who brings him up the house is clearly a liar, because he only gives him new information once they’ve reached a new point in the story. “Will you go to the house?” Then he doesn’t tell him that was on an island. And once they get to the house, he doesn’t tell him that he’s going to have to put on essentially a harness with a long chain attached. He’s going to be chained in the house. So, you know, that guy’s not reliable, and then there’s the girl that he’s there to look after who has these psychological issues. She is obviously quite violent. And then there’s the guy himself, the guy we’re actually following through the story. He doesn’t really seem to know what’s happening. So, there’s a bit of a mystery with that. I guess from a horror point of view, I find sometimes the audience can be a little bit unsettled if they’re not exactly sure what’s going on or if there’s a little bit of confusion. I’m not sure what’s happening here or who this guy is, but all that really matters is, “Is it scary?”

PopHorror: Exactly! We only know what he knows. Sometimes, the audience knows what’s going on and they’re like, “Don’t go in there!” Or whatever. But, in this movie, you only know what has been told to Isaac, so you’re putting it together with him, which is great. It also reminded me a bit of Memento. It doesn’t go backwards like that film does does but the way you discover things with him, reminded me of Memento.

Leila Sykes, Caveat
Leila Sykes as Olga in ‘Caveat’

Damian Mc Carthy: Memento was one of the films I watched for this, because I’ve seen it a lot. Maybe it’s just me as I’m not that smart… I’m still not 100% sure of what happens in that story, where exactly that character is coming from, or how many people that character has killed in his search for vengeance. And the whole thing with the Polaroids… but for me, it doesn’t really matter. As a viewer, I like the way the film is put together. I like that the character has this condition, and we’re just following him through the actual details of his past and all that. The director didn’t seem to get too hung up on explaining every single detail so that it’s crystal clear to the audience, which I think was an interesting approach.

PopHorror: Yeah, ambiguous. And it makes you think about it. Sometimes you walk out of the other theater thinking, “Okay, I figured that out.” And now you can go on to the next thing. But you walk out of Memento thinking, “Why was he tattooing this?” and “Was this guy good or bad?”

Damian Mc Carthy: There is that whole risk that you have to take. If people are lost in this, then you lose. If you confuse the audience, then you lose them. If they can’t follow it, then they’re gone. But maybe you’re more forgiving in a horror film, because all that really matters is, “Is it scary? Is this keeping me on edge of my seat?” As long as it’s entertaining.

PopHorror: Horror is awesome because you can combine it with every other genre. It’s hard to take a drama and add a musical bit to it, because that’s going to be complicated. But you could throw a musical scene in the middle of a horror movie if you want, and it would be okay. Anything goes. What would you say is your most influential horror film? Not your favorite but your most influential.

Damian Mc Carthy: I guess in terms of something that probably changed me, that if I had not seen it, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here, would will be Evil Dead 2. I saw that and I said, “Okay, well, that’s it. I have to figure out how to become a writer or how to have something to do with with filmmaking in in this genre.” I still remember the excitement of watching. It’s so creative. It’s so funny.

I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite. Probably my favorite film would be John Carpenter’s The Thing. But the one that’s had a big impact on me would have been Evil Dead 2, a horror comedy. Comedy horrors are so hard to do right. There’s such a fine line between comedy and horror. But yeah, that one seems to nail it.

PopHorror: I’ve got some weird questions. Ready? What was your favorite candy to get on Halloween?

Damian Mc Carthy: Let’s see… anything with mint. Mint and dark chocolate.

Damian Mc Carthy on the set of ‘Caveat’

PopHorror: And what really scares you? What are you afraid of?

Damian Mc Carthy: I don’t know. I’m afraid of everything. I can’t pick one illness. I’m a hypochondriac. Body horror is probably a good one. I saw that in Possessor [2020]. That one really freaked me out. People losing their minds is very scary. Did you see that film, Possessor?

PopHorror: No, not yet. But with a Cronenberg, you know it’s gonna be awesome.

Damian Mc Carthy: Yeah, I think it’s his son, Brandon Cronenberg. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again, but it’s a tough one.

PopHorror: Have you ever seen the movie, Contracted? It’s about this woman who contracts zombieism like as a sexually transmitted disease.

Damian Mc Carthy: Oh yes. No, I haven’t seen it, but it sounds familiar.

PopHorror: The body horror is just so nasty. You can imagine some of what was falling off… and falling out.

(both laugh)

PopHorror: Okay, so what’s next for you?

Damian Mc Carthy: Caveat seems to have worked out so far. So far, anybody that’s seen it has enjoyed us, which I’m delighted. And because of that, I’ve gotten production companies wanting to talk to me, or people that have seen it in the industry that have really liked. But I don’t know what’s next. I write all the time. I just write every day. I’ve got loads of scripts, but I’ve got one that I do really like. I’ve got to take the time to figure out what I’ve learned from my first film, to take what I’ve learned from Caveat, and how too improve upon it in the second film. So in terms of making a another film, a scarier, tighter film will be entertaining. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to do that. But we’ll see. Caveat gets released in a week. So unless things go very bad… (laughs). I think we’ll be okay. So far, so good. I would hope to get another chance to make something.

PopHorror: I had a blast talking with you. Thank you so much! I look forward to see what you’re going to do next, because I’m really impressed with Caveat.

Damian Mc Carthy: Thank you!

I can tell after just a short talk that this kind, humble filmmaker is going places in the filmmaking community. Caveat, is currently available on Amazon Prime through the link below. Take a chance on it and just let it all sink in. Keep your eyes tuned to PopHorror for more from Damian Mc Carthy, including an upcoming review of the film!

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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