SXSW 2024: ODDITY Delivers Sublime Scares Despite a Shaky Setup

Damian McCarthy’s feature delivers a murder mystery, revenge horror, and ghost movie, all rolled into one

There’s an old adage in soccer, “it’s a game of two halves”. The end result could still go your way in spite of a bad first half performance. The saying could also be applied to Damian McCarthy’s Oddity. As the credits roll, you’re pretty guaranteed a rapturous reception thanks to a barnstorming back half, but the process of teeing that up, is ever so shaky.

The film opens with Dani (Carolyn Bracken) hard at work renovating the new rural home she has bought with her husband Ted (Gwilym Lee). Staying overnight for the first time, she has a tent setup inside the one secure outbuilding, and after locking up and saying goodnight to her husband as he works an overnight shift on his psychiatric ward, hears a noise on the other side of the door. Through the peephole she sees a man with a glass eye (Tadgh Murphy) who tells he saw someone is inside already, and pleads to be let in to help her. Dani is left with a choice, open the door to possible danger, or stay inside where there might be something more chilling than this disheveled figure offering help. One year later, we see the aftermath. Dani died. The man with one eye having been convicted of murder, and identified as a former patient of her husband. Ted has moved on, now living in the completed farmstead with his new girlfriend Yana (Caroline Menton). One person has not let go, Dani’s twin sister Darcy (also Bracken). Blind, due to a form of brain cancer, she owns an Oddities and Antiquities store and also works as a medium, able to touch items and perceive the memories of the owners. When she gets hold of an item belonging to her sister’s apparent murderer, she begins to understand the truth behind what happened that night. On the one year anniversary of the murder, she turns up on Ted and Yana’s doorstep with a family heirloom, a creepy carved, wooden figure, and sets a plan in motion to uncover the truth about that fateful night.

Writer/director Damian McCarthy (Caveat) takes on a fairly big challenge here. After a barnstorming opening, there is a shift in setting up a whole new film really, or rather several. Oddity is a murder mystery, a revenge horror, a ghost movie, all rolled into one. There’s a real sense of unease built here, leveraging claustrophobic locations, darkened rooms, genre shifts, and jump scares to maximum effect. There’s also this ominous (and frankly iconic) wooden figure, ever-present in the corner, frozen in place but perennially on the precipice of action. Adding to all this is Aza Hand’s superbly unnerving sound design and composer Richard G. Mitchell’s brooding score.

Bracken delivers a brief, but endearing turn as Dani, but her slightly off-kilter work as the strong, yet fragile Darcy thoroughly channels the tone and timbre the film aspires to. Similarly, Steve Wall’s snarling work as an orderly at Ted’s hospital offers the right kind of dark malevolence needed to get the audience all the more invested in his part in the plot. This edge of melodrama and scene chewing is sorely needed in the film. Part of the issue in the middle portion comes from other characters being rather thinly written, or veiled moments where plot points or violence is skirted over. It’s a little too simple for it’s own good, neutered to help support the impact of what is to come. But without a doubt McCarthy knows his craft, and with a bit more balance Oddity, could have made for an all-timer. Even still, that final third is indelible in the mind. When Oddity unleashes, it absolutely rips, scorching the screen with intensity and imagery that cumulates with a devilishly wicked final shot that elicits as many chills as it does cheers.

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