It seems like, as time marches on, we have trouble accepting a movie as being good. Every movie is either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever, and no other option can exist. In this world full of tweets like “THE CONJURING is my everything!” or “LOL THE CONJURING is so lame. FOLLOW THAT BIRD was scarier!”. We never talk about the fine films. The ones that we didn’t love, but we enjoyed. The ones that we’ll watch again (and again) not because they rock our worlds, but because they’re quality flicks that are worth watching. We never share these movies, and so these movies tend to disappear quicker than they did just ten years ago.
ODD THOMAS is one of those movies. A good movie that really deserves more attention than it has gotten.
If you haven’t heard of it, and it is quite possible that you haven’t, ODD THOMAS is about a guy named Odd Thomas who can see ghosts. Odd uses his ability, an ability that drove his mother insane, to help the dead find peace. I know what you’re thinking; this is a knock-off of THE SIXTH SENSE. I don’t really think it is. While I wouldn’t be shocked if THE SIXTH SENSE was an inspiration for ODD THOMAS, this story is quite different; it has much more action and weirdness than THE SIXTH SENSE offered up.
The movie, written and directed by Stephen Sommers based on the book by Dean Koontz and starring Anton Yelchin as Odd follows the titular character as he tries to stop a mass shooting before it happens. Along with ghosts, Odd can see demonic creatures called Bodachs that show up ahead of violent deaths. This is why I’m saying it isn’t a knock-off of THE SIXTH SENSE. ODD THOMAS plays in the realm of supernatural in ways M. Night Shyamalan didn’t.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I don’t want to give away too much, so this will all be as spoiler free as possible. I’m not interested in telling you the plot beat by beat, I want to tell you why this movie works, and that all starts with Yelchin.
I can’t think of a movie where Anton Yelchin didn’t give his all, and ODD THOMAS is no different. Yelchin Plays Odd as an uncomfortably comfortable man; a guy who has come to accept what his life is and even finds ways to enjoy his power. It would be easy to play Odd as a solemn fella all full of emo posture and mumbling, but Yelchin and Sommers are smart enough to go in the opposite direction (to be fair, I’ve never read the book(s) so this may come straight from Koontz). Living in a small desert town, Odd is known by everyone, and just about everyone thinks he’s a little off, but they also know he’s a good chap. He goofs around with kids, is always polite, and occasionally leads the police to a murderer. Watching the movie, you get the feeling that Yelchin connected with the character and found more than a bit of himself in it. His voice, always calm and often cheerful, plays well off of the things that Odd deals with.
Working with Yelchin is Willem DaFoe and Addison Timlin. For DaFoe, this is a rare case where he isn’t playing a weirdo or villain; he plays Wyatt Porter, the chief of police and one of only two people who know about Odd’s powers. Timlin, as Stormy Llewellyn, is the other person who’s in on the supernatural powers stuff. A good portion of the movie relies on you enjoying seeing Yelchin and Timlin together, and their chemistry sells the romance between the two characters.
Odd and Stormy are fun, funny, and caring. We like them, and because of that, we’re invested in their story. Stormy is Odd’s partner in crime solving, the person he bounces ideas off of or gets ideas from. She’s also quick with a joke to help ease the tension when needed. Their relationship is the heart of the movie, and it works well. The banter between the two feels casual and unrehearsed, selling the connection between Odd and Stormy. You can see why Odd loves Stormy and why Stormy loves Odd. More to it, Timlin, like Yelchin, spends a lot of the movie riding the line between happy and frightened, and she sells it well. Like I said, I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a moment in the film where Timlin’s reaction breaks me down.
Odd and Chief Porter have a close relationship built on mutual respect. You get the feeling that Odd looks to Porter as a father figure and Porter sees Odd as his son, though the two never get all sappy about it. Of the three actors, DaFoe has the least to do, which is kind of a bummer.
The rest of the cast, including a cameo by Patton Oswalt, is solid, with Gugu Mbatha-Raw leading the secondary characters pack.
Sommers isn’t new to action and creepiness; he played with those aspects when he made the 1999 box office giant THE MUMMY and while I’ve never been the biggest fan of his work, I think he kills it with this one. The action scenes are well done, with the tension ramping up and the camera carefully placed for the best impact. Sommers is working with a fraction of the budget he had on movies like THE MUMMY and VAN HELSING, but he takes what he learned from making those action packed flicks and applies it here. With Yelchin as his hero, Sommers shows us a character who isn’t just funny and smart, but more than ready to throw down when needed.
The creepiness of the movie comes mainly from the Bodachs. These creatures, which appear to be part insect and part nightmare monster, fit into a multitude of creepy roles. They slither and stalk about the town, sniffing and snarling, looking to stay close to people who will soon die. While the normal person can never, and will never, see the Bodachs, people like Odd can. The problem for Odd is that if the Bodachs know you can see them, they’ll orchestrate your death real quick. Now, as with his other movies, Sommers relies more on CG than I would like, but I don’t know how the Bodachs could have been done otherwise, especially given the budget of the movie.
The CG that is in ODD THOMAS isn’t the best you’ll ever see, but it works. Sommers and the FX crew keep it simple and effective. Aside from the Bodachs, CG is used sparingly and only for things that practical FX couldn’t pull off. As far as I could tell, there’s no CG blood here, which helps sell the moments when there is blood.
And there is a fair amount of gore in this film. Considering Sommers’ previous movies and their more family friendly format, his use of violence and gore in ODD THOMAS is both shockingly brutal and sparse. There’s never gushing blood or intestines being torn from bodies, but what is there is powerful and effective.
All of this, the great acting, the solid direction, the well-done CG, wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if the mystery at the center of ODD THOMAS didn’t work. Luckily, it does. It isn’t a mystery filled with a million twists and turns, leaving the viewer confused. This has just enough twists to keep you wondering what will happen, and when.
In some ways, I feel like ODD THOMAS would have been better received as a television series. The weekly murder solving adventures of a guy who sees ghosts and his ice cream slinging girlfriend could fit really well on CW or, back when they had fun detective shows, USA. I suppose we could see that happen one day, but I feel pity for anyone who has to try and take over a role from far too soon departed Yelchin.
Is ODD THOMAS an all time great? No. But it sure as shit isn’t a “lame Scooby Doo episode” as one reviewer called it. It’s a solid movie with heart, which is something every movie should aspire to.
*All Photos: ODD THOMAS (2013) Image Entertainment