Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer of Films: Odd Thomas (2013)

When I ran across Odd Thomas the other day, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Marketed as a mystery-thriller by horror author Dean Koontz, it struck me right away that this didn’t appear to be a horror movie. It wasn’t a mystery either. Nor did it look like a thriller. It obviously wasn’t aimed at the tent-pole crowd either, or the film-snob crowd. So what was it? Well, perhaps the best way to describe it is as a quirky film about a likeable guy in a quasi-horror-comedy.


Like the kid in The Sixth Sense, the hero of this film, Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin), can see dead people. Only, in this film, Thomas is an adult and he uses his abilities to catch the people who killed the dead people: “I see dead people, but then, by God, I do something about it.” Helping him in this regard are his supportive girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) and the Chief of Police (Willem Dafoe), who knows about his abilities and trusts him completely – this thankfully avoids the “the police think I’m the bad guy” cliché.
As the story opens, Thomas captures a killer. He then tells us about something he calls “bodaks,” which are like shapeless, see-through creatures that feed on upcoming horror. Thomas can see these too, but he warns us that if they know that you can see them, they will kill you. He tells us that there is usually only one bodak at a time and that he rarely sees them, typically less than one per month. As he tells us this, a man walks into the diner where Thomas works. This man is surrounded by bodaks and more are coming all the time. This means the man will do something truly horrible.

As Thomas investigates the man, who Thomas nicknames Fungus Bob, he uncovers a plot to kill a lot of people, which meshes with a dream he has in which he sees a bowling team get murdered. As he investigates, Thomas discovers that the plot is larger than he originally expected.
Why I Recommend This Film

In the opening paragraph, I called this a horror-comedy, but that’s not really all that accurate. For one thing, this film isn’t scary. There are a few moments where some tension is created, but that’s about it. Instead, the film goes for tense and even that is alleviated by the comedic overtones of Yelchin’s narration and the utter lack of fear displayed by the supporting characters. That said, the film isn’t a comedy either. There are a few moments that might make you laugh, like how Willem Dafoe seems to be having sex every time Thomas calls him, but it’s nothing that will make you laugh out loud and there aren’t any jokes you will recall.

So if this isn’t a horror-comedy, and it’s not a mystery or a thriller or a tent-pole film, what is it? Well, I’d say this is a quirky film along the lines of the original Fright Night or An American Werewolf in London. This is a film that thrives by giving you an unusual character you like, who goes through an adventure involving something unnatural and they must use their unusual traits and their ingenuity to solve the movie. And while you know the film will definitely end well for the hero, what holds your interest is the steadily rising challenge the character faces, the odd twists and turns along the way, and the fact you like the character and the world they inhabit.
Fortunately, that works out well here. Thomas is very likeable and his narration makes him even more likable, it gives the film a comfortable feeling like a friend is telling you a story. The other characters are likeable as well. Importantly, this film has none of the unpleasant ideas often tossed in to ratchet up the drama, e.g. the fight with the frustrated girlfriend, the unbelieving police deciding to arrest the hero, the insanely angry boss, the lost best friend, etc. Thus, there is no phony unpleasantness tossed in to damper the flow of the story. Instead, the film focuses on the plot itself. In that regard, the story moves well and proves quite surprising despise your knowledge that Thomas will solve the film. In fact, the film is full of little surprises throughout as things you expect to happen one way happen another way or don’t happen at all, and I can say that I was not able to guess where the film was headed at any particular moment, even though I knew how it needed to end. All of this makes for an engaging and enjoyable film, and that is the best way to describe this film: it is entertaining. It isn’t much more than that, but that’s enough to make a film worthwhile.

That said, I should provide a note of caution. Films like this tend to be cult films. Either you have a taste for this type of film, or you don’t. Either you get the humor, which is quite subtle, or you don’t. Either you can stomach the ambiguity throughout, or you can’t, as the film does not force-feed you everything you need to know. The critics hated this film, giving it a 34% rating, but I suspect this film will find its audience and will be recognized as a cult classic within a decade.


** As an aside, this one may be difficult to find. It's on Netflix and DVD, but legal issues apparently kept it out of theaters.


Kit said...

I thought it was ok but felt more like a TV pilot. But I loved the last 5 minutes, the best display of Christian views on eternity. The actors were great, too. And, you are right, the hero was likable.

I also had a bit of a problem w/ the Bodachs. A cool idea looked way too much like the Cloverfield monster.
Bodachs: LINK
Cloverfield: LINK

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that the movie turned out pretty good. I enjoyed the books (the ones I've read anyway, I haven't read any of the books since Odd Hours) but I was afraid that the movie would turn out to be a letdown. I'll give it a look when I get a chance! And Kit, that definitely wasn't how I imagined the bodachs. I always thought of them as creepy-looking shadows with glowing eyes based on the books, but I can see where they might come up with a monster like that.

- Daniel

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, That's a problem I have with a lot of CGI effects today. Everything from Clash of the Titans to Riddick to this film keep using these same formless creatures and I see that as a real failure of creativity. I this case, I wasn't impressed with the bodak visuals, but I thought they were good enough for the film. As I said, this film isn't going to blow you away, but it is entertaining.

As for having a TV feel, I don't agree that the show felt like a television pilot -- it felt like a movie, but I can definitely see this becoming a television series as it has everything it needs to be the next Buffy or something like that.

AndrewPrice said...

Daniel, "Pretty good" is a nice way to describe it. This isn't a film that will blow you away or make you feel that you watched something special, but it is competently done in all aspects and it's engaging, which results in a pretty good movie.

In terms of the bodachs, they were a little uncreative visually, though they were an excellent idea.

As an aside, you could tell them came from a book or comic book because it does feel like these characters have a greater existence than you see here. Interestingly though, that gives a "whole world" feel which a lot of other films are lacking.

Kit said...

"Everything from Clash of the Titans to Riddick to this film keep using these same formless creatures and I see that as a real failure of creativity"

Exactly. Hollywood seems either incapable of or too scared to do a fresh, cool-looking monster. I say we outsource the design of monsters for our movies to the Japanese. They do it right.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like fun! This movie was never on my radar - some movies, you just hear the title and a quick synopsis and you file it away for later. This would be one of those movies

It looks like Redbox has this. And the fact that it had theatrical distribution problems only highlights the simple truth that the vast majority of movies never get distribution, at least in theaters.

I've read tons of great stuff about this 70s-throwback sci-fi film with Patrick Wilson called Space Station 76... it played at festivals, Sony bought it... and unceremoniously dumped it to DVD.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, That the Japanese do. Hollywood really needs to get over this idea that blobs are cool monsters.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It is entertaining and I suspect it's right up your alley.

It is amazing that they can finish a film and then never bother putting it into theaters, especially a film with a somewhat famous cast, but that's Hollywood for you!

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

If we do more debates one day, it might be a question worth exploring... "How would you rebuild Hollywood to make it more efficient and fair?"

Kit said...

"Hollywood really needs to get over this idea that blobs are cool monsters."

Blobs can be cool monsters, provided they are, you know, blobs. Big, slow-moving, unstoppable amorphous blobs that can absorb people. That is kind of scary.

Repetitive blob-esque creatures that look like all the other blob-esque creatures are not.

shawn said...

Just saw this about 2 weeks back as netflix recommended it due to my tatstes and I have to say for a film out of nowhere, it was quite entertaining. The cast did a fine job, the effects were good if not spectacular, and the story interesting. I would certainly recommmend it.

Unknown said...

Movies that achieve cult status often transcend genres or defy easy classification, and they certainly appeal to me, so I will definitely look out for this one. I'm reminded of "The Island", which many dismissed as a half-baked action movie, whereas I found it had much more to offer.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That would be a good question, though obvious Hollywood isn't going to listen to us!

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I agree. A blob is fine as "the blob," but not when you are talking about other creatures that should have some defined shapes.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I'm not sure how I came across this. I think I saw an ad for it at some point. In any event, I enjoyed it.

AndrewPrice said...

John, This one also defies easy classification, and I think you are right about that. Cult films often combine different genres or at least do things so differently that they are hard to pin down as one thing or another. This is definitely one of those.

Tohokari-Steel said...

I saw this movie and found it enjoyable. I tend to enjoy the works by Steven Sommers...not because his movies are good, mind you. More often than not, they're pretty bad. I enjoy them because he seems to have a kind of passion for his projects and it shows. He had fun making it, so I have fun watching it.

AndrewPrice said...

Tohokari, There is definitely a lightness to this film which I think comes from the film crew having a good time making this film. It feels like a labor of love, and that is often enough to make a film worth seeing on its own.

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