First of all, a disclaimer—a couple of years back, there was a great deal of buzz around a quiet horror film called Caveat, which was filmed in a single location and featured what many were calling the best scares in recent memory. After a single, tense watch, I was sold on director Damian McCarthy, who was making a kind of horror I had never seen before.

So of course we knew we had to cover McCarthy's newest project, Oddity, which just premiered at SXSW to rave reviews. The film stars Gwilym Lee and Carolyn Bracken, along with one creepy, creepy mannequin. Bracken plays twins, one of whom is mysteriously killed in a home invasion. A year later, her blind sister Darcy visits widower Ted, determined to figure out what really happened.

No Film School met up with this exceptionally kind team during SXSW to discuss the film's development and what we can learn from one of the best new horror films out now. Leave the lights on, and enjoy.

Editor's note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Mild spoilers below.

NFS: I know that you mentioned that this is a passion project, and you went back to your hometown to shoot this. Is that correct?

Damian McCarthy: Yeah. I guess it was written—so the room where we shot this, it was the same room where we shot Caveat, but just without all of our sets there. I was just thinking that the room is lovely still ... this is kind of ready to go. I just need to set dress it and make it look like Gwilym's character would live in this place, and it worked.

Yeah, but it was lovely shooting back in Bantry, where I'm from. And one of the little truths in it was that my dad used to be a projectionist in the old cinema. The cinema's closed for years and years there. But that became our prop department for all the stuff.

NFS: For both of you, what attracted you to this project?

Carolyn Bracken: The script and the opportunity to take on two characters. It's scary, but it's the right kind of difficult, just enough to challenge you. So it was the script. It was brilliant.

Gwilym Lee: Yeah, unimaginative, but the same thing. The script as well, just I liked the fact that ... Damian wrote these really long scenes with great dialogue between two characters. It was really character-driven for that genre film. It felt that actually that's what sustains it, and it's got that great foundation throughout.

And then, meeting Damian after having read the script, I kind of fed off of his enthusiasm, passion, and expertise for the horror genre. It's kind of an encyclopedia of the whole genre, which I didn't know a huge amount about. So I felt total trust in him and felt we were in really good hands there.

NFS: You mentioned in the press notes also that this is a mishmash of a lot of different horror subgenres. What was your creative process and figuring out what to pick and choose from different genres?

McCarthy: I think it is almost like with this film that you could make a slasher movie in a way, but not have so much of a build-up. It would just be that scene. Or it could take a ghost story. But again, without that slow build-up, you could just have that scare.

And I think with Caveat, not that it's a problem, but I think the criticism that film did get that is quite a slow build-up to everything happening in that last 15 minutes.

It's okay. I think it can be a fair criticism, but again, it wouldn't have worked for the character if you kept scaring him every 10 minutes. Because just in terms of performance, how do you reset him and how does he continue after seeing something? You could only do it by cheating with, it's a dream. It was not a dream sequence or something like that.

So with this, so with that mishmash of different genres, it was just taking things that I really love about all of those and trying to find a way for them just to slot together naturally. It doesn't feel too jarring. It's like we're suddenly in a different genre or subgenre of horror. I didn't really think about it too much. It just seemed to be the script, just kind of how it took work, but it still seemed to click together nicely as it went along.

NFS: Can I ask about your proclivity to include these scary props? I saw the rabbit from Caveat and that was like, "No thanks, I don't want to see that," because it's terrifying still. But the mannequin, was that always a part of it?

McCarthy: It was always going to be trying to figure out a way, I guess, to have—it's like, what's [Darcy's] tool? How is she going to take down these guys? She's already at that disadvantage because in his house as such, and she can't see. She is really at that disadvantage. Well, what do I give her that supernatural that she could use to take him down? That was just the idea. It was like, okay, just have her be able to possess and control this big unstoppable guy.

So yeah, it was always there, but it was just supposed to be one of these things that she has. It was like, well, if that fails, she's got the desk bell and who knows what else, what that stuff on the shelf does. It's just something that interests me. You get these things, like, "That's really cool," or I see all props and I go, "That's got a story behind it." So that's just written around this.

NFS: What was the biggest challenge for each of your roles?

Bracken: Oh, wow. I suppose finding them, do you know what I mean? The differences and the similarities of twins. And just being able to navigate that convincingly.

But as I was saying, all the other departments, costume, hair, makeup, script obviously, setting, production design, been just really informed and held that. But yeah, there was a concern at one stage that we get these moments of I've bitten off more than I can chew here, but then you remember that you're not on your own in creating this character or these characters at all.

There's other huge departments that play such a huge factor, and they really did. They made the job so easy. Just the costumes in particular. And I was saying in the last interview, which does sound a bit wanky, but I felt that Darcy, in particular, ended up finding me a bit in it. You know what I mean? It was the attitude, all of that. Yeah, it was great. But it wasn't, [I was] a bit bit scared once or twice.

Lee: I think with Ted it was always a conversation with Damian about not exposing too much at any point during the film and yet still playing the stakes at the moment for what they are. So we always talked about the fact that we hope it's the kind of film that you watch back again a second time and then you'd see the clues but you're not exposed to them first time round.

So he was kind of trying to tread that tightrope a little bit. And then also just trying to find a logic behind what he does behind his actions, it's so extreme and so based on such narcissism and delusions of grandeur, but really committing to that. And it's not playing that up, not presenting it, but actually just really being in it and trying to play the truth of that, I suppose.

And it's quite funny because we talked about that moment of when he's kind explaining to Ivan why he's done what he's done. And he says, "Well, she'll never get over me." And we watched it with an audience for the first time last night, so picking up on their reactions and they found that hilarious.

NFS: I'm sure.

Lee: I never thought that. It is quite absurd, but you kind of have to play [that] he believes that. It's about trying to find the truth in those moments, I suppose.

NFS: For all of you, is there a sequence that you're most proud of?

Lee: I really loved our scene there by the trap door. I loved shooting it and it just felt there was an energy on set that night. We were doing it and it was a real focus from everybody, cast and crew alike. And I thought there was a real kind of electric energy in that scene when we shot it. I think it comes across it's great and brilliant performance.

Bracken: There were so many moments, and we shot that scene in particularly early in the shoot, so we knew that it was so heavy, but something about it really worked. It just was great.

Lee: That's when we had a bat flying around in the background. It made it more creepy and atmospheric.

Bracken: It was keeping us company. There was that scene with Yana and Darcy at the dinner table. There was a real, you could barely hear a penny drop in the room with that scene. And I loved Darcy's, the scenes with Tadhg at night. They were the very last scenes that we shot, and it was just so much. ... I can't pick one. They were all just brilliant.

McCarthy: I think for me, obviously Tadhg Murphy and Carolyn going back and forth, and that was our last night filming as well, and it was just really felt like, "Oh, we're at the end of this and this is a really nice way to finish." But it was so intense.

Then the very first thing we shot was the last scene with Gwilym and the desk bell, and it's your first day sitting in, you're nervous, and you're kind going, "How's this going to go?"

And it's silent, as well. Gwilym just has to play this thing for four and a half, five minutes. It's just looking around. And it might seem like it's an easy thing to do, but it's not at all. Sometimes it's played right here so tight, and it was fantastic. I knew that it was, we were definitely going to, you've completely understood the horror of this. It's a real balancing act because you don't believe in this stuff, and he's been against it the whole way through.

And everybody else in the film has had some kind of supernatural experience, but he hasn't. So he's going in going, "Let's just see." And I just really, really enjoyed it. And of course, as Carolyn said, Yana and Darcy just going back and forth at the table are really like, yeah, I think the whole script is great.

NFS: It's a hard question. I understand.

Lee: I was so excited that first day and so keen to get our blocks, so I was buzzing and I gave myself whiplash, genuinely gave myself whiplash from turning around. I woke up the next day, couldn't move my head. I was like, "Oh, God." Overexcited.

NFS: For someone getting into indie film, what is your advice?

McCarthy: Yeah, just being at SXSW ... listen to interviews of directors talking about bringing their films here and just giving out advice and that. Everybody's so different from how they're going to get into it. So if it was just for me, and if I was going about it again ... I get a lot of emails or messages from filmmakers or young filmmakers saying, "How do I get into it?"

And for me it's going to be different, but it's just what I did. I think it's make short films. As short and simple as you can. It'll just teach you about working with actors. Keep into your schedule, how to frame stuff. Short films, get it into film festivals because you can watch it with a crowd and you'll get that kind of feedback from the crowd, like what's working or whatnot.

Plus it shows that if you can get it into a festival, you're doing something right, it's being accepted in some way. So that's what I did. And then just learning how to write a script and structure a script, and your three acts and your midpoints. And just get all that stuff, and just keep writing. And I think you just stick with it. I've had hundreds of rejections for years trying to get things made. But you just got to keep going with it.

That's probably it. Really simplified. Short films, keep writing, keep submitting, and you'll just gain experience and learn how to write a good email, and thank people if they respond to you, even if their response is negative. It pays off. It's just slow getting into it.

NFS: If you all wanted to offer advice to maybe a first-time director, what would it be?

Lee: From an actor's point of view, you mean?

NFS: Right.

Bracken: Just do everything they tell you. No, I'm just kidding. God, that is such a big question. It's a collaboration, isn't it?

McCarthy: Yeah, I think it's just, I suppose, with all of our early conversations, it shows that I think as a writer, you can only go so far with a character, even an idea anyway. If you really want it to be all of yours, just be a novelist. You're not collaborating with anybody then.

But I think, and I've said this, even with every character in this, it's the same dialogue and it's the same plot, but who the character became and what they are.

You have an idea of what it is, but then once you start working with people with their own imaginations and their own take on the character, you just get really good stuff. Just listen to actors, because there comes a point where they'll be, even if you've written the character, you've had the character in your head for years. Once they come on, it's all they're thinking about. And it's really helpful. It's definitely something I would say, be open to everybody's ideas.

Lee: It's a strange balance, isn't it? As a director, you have to be incredibly organized and know exactly what you want to achieve. And you had your storyboards that were immaculately laid out, and you knew exactly what you wanted.

And yet at the same time, you have to be totally flexible and be ready to just change it. Because your schedule might go to pot one day, or an actor might come in with a suggestion or an offer that you just hadn't seen before. And you have to be willing to just go with that.

It is, as you say, a collaboration, the conversation. So it's the same with preparing as an actor as well. You want to prepare as much as possible, but at the same time, you don't want to lay everything in concrete because then what's the point? You are in a scene with another person.

It's not about you and what you've done and prepared and set in stone. It's actually about the other person and how you can change them, how they can change you. And that's the scene. That's the thing that's real in the film. And that kind of back and forth between actors should also involve the director as well. It's that whole beautiful chemistry, I suppose.

NFS: I didn't know if you had anything else?

Bracken: No, you guys kind of covered it. But yeah, it's just that effective communication with collaboration. And you'll agree on some things, you won't on others, and that's okay. You'll find the compromise, you'll find the meeting in the middle, you know what I mean? But I think just effective communication.

Lee: And as you said, that can happen at any point, you know, found later in some way down the line. It happens at different times. You don't have to get that on day one. You kind of discover things throughout.

Bracken: But even yet throughout the days. Depending on the days and what we were shooting. Beforehand, we'd sit down and go through even just finding the different voices between, say, for instance between Dani and Darcy, but just how they phrase things. And just kind of figuring out, Darcy might instead of this word, might say this word or clip it a bit, you know what I mean? Or instead of "it's," she'll say "it is." Simple things like that.

And just sitting down and doing that, just having that collaborative and respectful communication and that comfortable space where you can do it. And then not the ego when there's compromise. Do you know what I mean? That you can just effectively sail through it and just remember that we're all on the same side. Just trying to make a really good movie.

Lee: That's the goal.