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ODDITY (2024)

Release Date: 03/08/24 [Festival Run]
Genre: Horror. Thriller.

[Seen at SXSW Film Festival 2024]

"Uncovering the truth behind sister's death with the help of wooden mannequin." 


Horror films are at their best when they know they are supposed to be scary. Writer/director Damien McCarthy has delivered an exciting and shocking entry into the genre, full of scares, melodrama, and even some well-timed humor with Oddity. This Irish film, a Shudder exclusive, explores family, grief, selfishness, trust, and intuition. This film also introduces one of the creepiest props ever to be used in a horror film: a wooden mannequin takes front and center in the second half of the film and carries a haunting expression that will stay with the audience long after viewing. 


Dr. Ted Timmis (Gwilym Lee), a doctor for a psychiatric hospital, moves into a new home with his wife Dani (Carolyn Bracken), a house that is essentially a miniature castle. The good doctor is unfortunately on the night shift, leaving Dani alone in their new dwelling with high walls and narrow passages. She gets a mysterious knock late at night. The mysterious caller, Olin (Tadhg Murphy), who claims to know her husband, is only seen through the sliding notch in the middle of the door. Olin tells Dani that someone snuck into the house and that she is in danger. This premise alone is enough to set hairs on end. 


We then jump ahead in time. Dani has been murdered, and Ted visits her twin sister Darcy (Bracken filling in a dual role) to check in and perhaps find some solace. Darcy is blind and runs an oddities shop full of cursed objects. "The curse lifts once the customer has paid." But Ted finds no comfort from a still grieving Darcy, who blames Ted for leaving her sister in a precarious and dangerous situation.


Additionally, Darcy displays consternation toward Ted dating again so soon after his wife's passing. His new girlfriend, a hospital administrator, Yana (Caroline Menton), shows none of the warmth her deceased predecessor personified. Yana is self-centered and perhaps a bit tiresome. Who knows what her appeal is besides her desire to party in the city? 


Bracken exhibits brilliance and wit in her portrayal of a grieving Darcy, who calls on Ted and Yana at their home, much to Ted's surprise and Yana's annoyance. She has brought a gift for the couple. It's a wedding gift, even though the couple are only dating. This gift is a wooden mannequin with some folksy backstory and lore to accompany it. None of that information is remembered, as its presence is disconcerting. It is initially left in the box upon Darcy's arrival. Its grand reveal has it removed from the box and sitting at the dining room table, a placement it reached all by itself, according to the blind Darcy. 


Ted and Yana are stupefied but keep their politeness toward Darcy. The moment Oddity really begins to take off occurs when Ted gets called into work, leaving Yana alone with Darcy and her blind snarkiness—and the mannequin. The effectiveness of the mannequin's presence is not to be understated. Even in clear shots, when the mannequin maintains its statuesque posture, it still feels like it's looking at you—like it is seeing you.


Oddity diverts from a predictable path in its second act, eschewing ordinary haunted house or scary object beats. McCarthy infuses elements of a whodunnit, ethical discovery, moral quandaries, and theatrical romance and grafts them into a powerful story of sibling love and dedication. 


And this film is very, very scary. McCarthy frames the house for what it is: a crime scene. Many objective angles make the audience feel like witnesses to something we were not meant to see. Colm Hogan's cinematography splashes shadows into an innovative visual language. I haven't seen such a well-composed and crafted horror film since Hereditary. In their assortments and medleys, jump scares can be appropriate if handled well. Oddity has not rewritten the book on the horror trope but leads the pack regarding their timing and execution. Where a lesser film may telegraph the big impact, Oddity baits the audience superbly before it strikes and sometimes delivers a one-two punch that may cause you to toss your popcorn. 


Of course, none of these technical achievements would work if the performances, especially from Bracken, did not pull in the audience with such magnetic efficiency. To suggest Oddity is merely creepy would be a massive understatement. Buyer beware: This is a horror film that pulls you in with its gloomy atmosphere, gripping performances, and paralyzing terror. Like the cursed objects featured within its narrative, once you watch the horror within Oddity, there's no going back.

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