The vampire genre is almost as old as film itself, going all the way back to Nosferatu. Its popularity comes and goes in waves, as does the originality of the particular specimens. There's something of a fallow period going on in bloodsucking movies these days, so producers want to come up with a new spin, which is what the creators of The Caretaker have tried to do. It's at times inventive, and fun, but not always successful.
The premise is pretty simple: a wave of a vampire like infection is sweeping Australia, and perhaps the world. A number of disparate people get trapped in a remote house with a vampire. He offers them a deal: he'll protect them from other vampires at night, if they protect him from humans during the day.
The vampire is Dr. Ford Grainger (Mark White, who also produces), and he arrives at the home of Lester (Colin MacPherson) to see to Lester's mother, who is showing all the symptoms of vampirism. Ford isn't quite sure he's one of the undead at this point, but a confrontation with mother soon convinces him. Also showing up at the house are stormy young couple Guy and Annie (Clint Dowdell and Anna Burgess), and masculinist activist Ron (Lee Mason), fresh from seeing the men's group he was addressing massacred by vamps.
These are all strangers to each other, and they've arrived at the house for various reasons of chance and convenience, but they have to start working together if they have any chance of survival. The human tensions threaten to destroy the fragile group, however, as well the quite natural reluctance to share the house with a vampire.
The film is well done enough, particularly given the evident small budget. They get an enormous amount of value out of the beautiful locations and practical sets they have access too. The cinematic style is interesting and well executed, with a number of nice visual jokes and impressive set pieces. The performances are pretty good too, even if Ford's tendency post vampire transformation to spout off airy philosophical monologues is a bit off putting. The strained relationship between Annie and Guy is quite convincing, and adds a lot to the drama of the piece. Colin MacPherson also stands out as the extremely creepy, sexually deviant and manipulative owner of the house. He is constantly playing members of the group off of each other, and in particular never ceases in his attempts to get into Annie's pants, by any means necessary. And although the filmmakers intentionally kept the gore and blood splatter low key, the effects are nevertheless quite well done.
Having said that, The Caretaker is not an unqualified success. Although there are a number of very cool scenes of vampire mayhem, which are delightfully over the top, no kind of tension or sense of fear is ever developed. Perhaps this isn't what the producers are going for, but the film reads as more of a domestic drama (though an exciting one) with supernatural elements than a straight up horror movie. It is enjoyable to an extent, but not overly thrilling or scary, and it does tend a little to the hammy side of the spectrum.
Especially given that it's a low budget production, The Caretaker is impressive in most areas of execution. The story doesn't quite play out as elegantly as it could, and it lacks coherence at times, especially in the beginning when a bewildering number of new characters are introduced and plotlines set up. It's a decent film, but not great. Recommended.
The image is 1.78:1 widescreen, and has a few issues. There's a bit of posterization at times, and aliasing is evident almost throughout, and is quite heavy at times. Despite this, the colors are rich and deep and the Australian countryside is beautifully portrayed.
Audio is available in both Dolby digital 5.1 and 2 channel, and works well enough in both, but there's nothing spectacular or challenging going on here. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.
There are a few extras included. They are:
Making of Documentary
This featurette clocks in at 17:29, and includes a lot of behind the scenes footage, and interviews with most of the cast and a lot of the crew, including writer / director Tom Conyers and composer Phillip Czaplowski. This is quite interesting.
The Lester Rap
This is a humorous short feature, with lots of Colin MacPherson's dialogue cut into a rap, along with funny comments and hijinks from him and others in the cast.
At 1:15, this is a moderately cool short trailer for the film.
This one comes in at 2:28, and is fairly cool as well.
Director / Producer Commentary
This is the most substantial extra, featuring Tom Conyers and Mark White commenting on the film. They talk about the travails of low budget filmmaking, the casting process, the themes and ideas that informed the script, and a lot more. These aren't exceptionally engaging guys, but the commentary is fun and informative.
The Caretaker is not a perfect film, but the producers give it a lot of effort and passion, even if they stumble from time to time. The best parts of the film are probably the vampire attacks and battles, and there are a number of them. They're well executed, and should be enjoyable to horror fans. The film as a whole is interesting, though not completely satisfying, but definitely much better than much of the dreck coming out these days.