An English home-invasion thriller of sorts that goes off the rails early and hard, “Caught” is quasi-horror, or science-fiction, though it’s too pretentiously ambiguous about what’s really going on for one to be quite sure. Nonetheless, Jamie Patterson’s film is almost an instant camp classic for its ridiculous villains and poker-faced silliness, the major caveat being that it’s so damn yakkety. Despite mysteriously having won a critic’s prize at Fantasporto, this is likely to enthrall very few Stateside genre fans in its simultaneous Cinedigm release to theaters, on-demand and digital HD on March 30.
Writer Julie (Mickey Sumner) and photographer Andrew Costello (Ruben Crow) are married journalists struggling to make ends meet in 1972 West Sussex, in the south of England, though they live in a very nice country home inherited from her parents. They’re thinking through their next professional move — a proposed exposé of apparent nearby covert military operations, which they guess are designed to protect construction of a sure-to-be-protested nuclear plant — when suddenly there are unexpected visitors.
Assumed at first to be religious proselytizers for their stiffly formal dress and manner, the couple introduce themselves as “Mr. Blair” (Cian Barry) and “Mrs. Blair” (April Pearson) on precisely the same level of naturalism with which the Coneheads claimed “We are from France.” Her hair in a tight bun, she resembles Virginia Woolf on thorazine, while he looks like a forgotten member of Duran Duran. They have proper English accents, yet raise the world-class red flag of having no idea how to drink a cup of tea. It turns out they want to discuss whatever the journos “caught” (on camera or otherwise) in spying on the assumed military encampment. This inquiry quickly goes from awkward to alarming.
As these visitors exude the stilted menace of Communists or evil Martians in Cold War B movies (glaring evilly, speaking every. word. with. portentous. pauses.), one half expects we’re being set up for some absurdist fantasy comedy. But there are no intentional laughs in this first screenplay by Dave Allsop and Alex Francis that takes itself verrrry seriously. To what end? There is no end, really. We never do find out just what this sinister duo are advance agents for, though there are hints toward an imminent space-alien invasion or malevolent supernatural phenomenon.
Meanwhile, there’s much hysteria in the household, as the Costellos realize they (and the baby upstairs) are in mortal danger. The intruders seem very interested in the return of little Toby (Aaron Davis) from school — yet when he arrives, nothing comes of it. More definite is the fate of an unlucky passer-by, postman Sam (Dave Mounfield).
The horror elements are linked to the fact that stern inquisitor Mr. Blair and increasingly banshee-like enforcer Mrs. Blair have only temporary human forms: Their physical deterioration is mostly signaled by her burbling up a lot of viscous substances, and some decent FX makeup by Colin J. Smith. But we never see what they “really” look like. Many movies have eked plentiful terror from a single interior setting with no or limited added effects. But instead of emphasizing tense action and atmosphere — the usual limited-budget solutions — the filmmakers here seem to think having their characters nervously chatter on about their situation in reams of clumsy dialogue will do the trick. It does not.
Sumner and Crow are stuck running up and down a range of garrulous panic in the face of a highly unconvincing threat. Though mostly trapped with its protagonists inside the house, “Caught” is visually and technically more than adequate, testifying to Patterson’s resourcefulness in having cranked out 10 prior indie features (however little-seen) in just the past six years. The film’s chamber-scaled mix of attempted terror and enigma might’ve been better assisted, however, by a score less strident than Moritz Schmittat’s. He lays on swells of conventional suspense, which often only draw attention to the underwhelming nature of what’s actually happening on-screen.