Odd Thomas (2013)

Odd Thomas first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

“I may see dead people, but then, by God, I do something about it.”

In a breezy voice-over, Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) introduces us to the community of Pico Mundo (near Las Vegas), to the people in his life, and to the idiosyncratic powers that make him live up to his name. Odd, you see, liberates the unrestful dead by bringing their killers to justice, The Sixth Sense-style, with the help of love-of-his-life Stormy Llewellyn (Addison Timlin) and local police chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe), who are both aware of his abilities. Odd can also see both the future (in flashes), and Bodachs – monstrous creatures that congregate around scenes of imminent disaster. And right now, Odd can see swarms of Bodachs everywhere, heralding something apocalyptic about to hit his beloved town, unless he can work out what it is and stop it in  time.   

Quirky can be a dangerous card to play. One viewer’s idea of eccentrically amiable is another’s of intolerably twee – and those resistant to the charms of the hipster-cute aesthetic should be warned that Odd Thomas, directed by Stephen Sommers, goes full quirk, from its repeatedly expressed assertion (by just about about  every character) of just how ‘weird’ the protagonist is, to its loving look at parochial quaintness. Even the presence of the narration itself is likely to prove an irritant to some – although in fact it allows Sommers (whose screenplay adapts a Dean R. Koontz novel) to introduce Odd’s backstory and unusual talents in a brief and witty introduction, so that, instead of getting bogged down for half the film in dreary ‘origins’ narrative, Odd Thomas can cut quickly to the chase, with Odd’s relationship to both Stormy and Wyatt already a given.

If Sommers’ filmography is full of SFX- and CGI-driven titles (The Mummy, Van Helsing, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), then Odd Thomas is no exception, as spectral Bodachs swim through physical spaces with a pack-like menace, unnoticed by (almost) all around them, and ghosts evanesce into sparkles or butterflies. Yet all this is anchored by Yelchin’s central performance as a character so self-effacingly funny, so romantic, so decent and honourable, and yes, so charming, that all the supernatural goings-on fast become normalised, and never alienate. Even Odd’s elevation to local divinity at the end (signified by crowds carrying posters that read ‘Odd saves’ and ‘In Odd we trust’) never goes to the head of this strangely ordinary Jesus, Odd in name only. The result is a funny, ultimately moving film which, like The Lone Ranger, champions unfashionably old-fashioned – or is that small-town – values, and eschews all cynicism. It is everything that the similarly themed (but awful) R.I.P.D. should have been – and it is moving into your city soon.

© Anton Bitel