Generally, I don’t bother with too much in the way of exposition before talking about a movie, since I assume that you’ve already seen it if you’re clicking on the link. I’m going to make an exception with Odd Thomas since, if you’re anything like me about 30 minutes before I watched it, you’ve never heard of the damned thing.
Adapted from the Dean Koontz novel of the same name, Odd Thomas is about a man, whose name is actually Odd Thomas (first name then last name, no adjectives). Odd has the ability to see the spirits of dead people. If it sounds anything like Ghost Whisperer, Medium, or that short-lived Matthew Fox UPN TV show Haunted, that’s because it’s just like those. Good guy Odd communes with the dead (although non-verbally) in order to catch criminals and prevent future crimes. Sure, the concept is dated but, to be fair, the book it is based on came out in 2003, just as everybody was figuring out how best to rip off The Sixth Sense.
As entertainment, Odd Thomas is perfectly serviceable. I certainly didn’t regret watching it and Anton Yelchin is just darling in the title role. What sneaks past you is just how dark, depressing, and bleak the world of the movie is. In retrospect, it’s incredible how much murder, assault, mutilation, and terrorism is packed into its 93 minutes. The reason the movie’s gravity doesn’t sink right in and destroy your soul is because of its insistence on keeping a light tone. Throughout most of the movie, Odd and his girlfriend Stormy engage in playful banter, even when they are faced with some of the most horrific scenes imaginable. We are talking about a movie that contains murdered children, a person being eaten by dogs, severed body parts in a refrigerator, rotting corpses, and a plot to mass murder thousands of people. Meanwhile, our protagonist responds to it with quips, flirtation, and a slapstick gag where ice cream gets stuck to the ceiling.
It’s not just Odd and Stormy that participate in this behaviour of confronting evil with cuteness. Police Chief Wyatt Porter (played by Willem Defoe) knows about some of Odd’s abilities and has to figure out ways to explain how these crimes could have been solved without supernatural abilities. He spends even more time than Odd in the grim reality of the criminal world but the character is played with an optimism that threatens to tumble into folksiness. Instead of allowing the darkness to swallow him, Chief Porter nearly always looks like he’s got a birthday cake waiting for him at home. He clearly enjoys his hobbies, he likes having company over, and he genuinely looks forward to date nights with his wife. Whenever he, Stormy, and Odd are in the same room, the mood is so safe and sweet that it makes Boy Meets World look like a snuff film.
Rotten Tomatoes suggests that Odd Thomas “suffers from a jumbled tone” and while I agree that it’s jarring, I also think that the cute vibe that radiates off of the movie is a fascinating defence mechanism for its characters in trying to reconcile a normal life with a constant barrage of violence and terror. For these characters, they have already decided that they are going to solve crimes and save lives. In doing so, they are presented with a choice about how their own lives are going to be affected. Either a) they can absorb the darkness they’re fighting, allowing their actions to be motivated only by righteousness and fury or b) they can force themselves to stay grounded in basic pleasures, like ice cream, barbecues, and banter. Theirs is a calloused optimism, intentionally protected against the swarm of negativity and hatred they engage with on a constant basis.
So yes, when it’s not showing you scenes that are awful to behold, Odd Thomas is precious but only does so to over-inflate any positive moments in its characters’ lives because, at its core, the movie believes that life truly is precious and it’s worth acting precious about.
Dylan Clark-Moore is a podcast creator and blogger at NetFlakes. You can find him on Letterboxd and Twitter.
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Odd Thomas is also available from Amazon.