SXSW 2024: ‘Oddity’ Plants Nightmares In The Dark Places In Your Brain

Something to know about me: if I see an oddity shop, I’m going in. There’s always some strange item in the window that I must get closer to and know the details of. That love of macabre curiosities is exactly what got me in the seat for writer/director Damian McCarthy’s latest film ‘Oddity.’ The photo used to promote the film is of the most terrifying wooden mannequin you’ve ever seen and I needed to know EVERYTHING about that item. Unfortunately (and thankfully) that guy remains shrouded in mystery allowing the rest of the film to do the heavy lifting of planting nightmares in the dark places in your brain.

Part crime thriller, part traditional haunted house film, ‘Oddity’ begins with Darcy (Carolyn Bracken) in an isolated, rambling, country home that needs a lot of work to be livable. As her husband Ted (Gwilym Lee) works nights at a mental health facility she prepares a tent for camping in their future living room, unafraid of the solitude and lack of electricity and cell service. As she settles in she is startled by frantic knocking at the door only to find one of her husband’s former patients has come to warn her that someone slipped in the door left open as she went to look for something in the car. Rightfully distrustful she does not let the strange man in and instead he goes into town to call the police. We quickly find out that someone had come to brutally murder her. We are then launched ahead one year later.

Ted, who is now living with a new girlfriend, drops by to see Darcy’s twin sister Dani (also played by Bracken) at her family’s oddity shop where she deals in strange antiques and acts as a medium. Ted gives her an item that reignites her suspicions surrounding the circumstances of Darcy’s death. Although he tries to discourage a visit Darcy, who is also blind, makes her way out to the now renovated home that her sister was murdered in with the aforementioned wooden mannequin in tow. Using her abilities she hopes to get closure as well as making sure those responsible get the reckoning they deserve.

If you’ve seen McCarthy’s previous film ‘Caveat’ you know he likes to play with the idea of spiritual retribution rather than bold revenge and we get similar themes here. We also get the deep sense of isolation that McCarthy is so good at cultivating. The outside world disappears as it is unable to offer any help to those trapped by their own actions anyway. While most of the plot points were fairly easy to see coming, the predictability works for this film. As you lulled into a false sense of safety by thinking you know exactly what is going to happen, McCarthy is sneaking in well earned jump scares and hiding faces in the shadows. For its part, the wooden mannequin manages to be absolutely terrifying every time it is on screen even while largely doing nothing visible at all.

While I was clearly quite taken by the mannequin the true star here is Carolyn Bracken in the dual lead role of Darcy and Dani. Despite being twins she plays them with very notably separate personalities making both characters engaging and magnetic. The sisters never interact on the screen together but through the writing and Bracken’s performance we still get a sense of their connection, even beyond the grave. It is by far the most touching and real feeling relationship in the film.

If I had any complaints here it would be the tidiness of the ending. I like finality as much as the next person but when an ending is a little too clean it can lean into cheesiness, like an episode of the Brady Bunch where all the problems are wrapped up, leaving no room for wonder. I think this sort of ending is ultimately fine with the tone of this film though. While ‘Oddity’ does go to very dark places there are moments of comedic levity that keep things from feeling too dire and prevent the unambiguous ending from feeling too out of place.

SXSW 2024: ‘Oddity’ Plants Nightmares In The Dark Places In Your Brain