Movies: Odd Thomas (2011)

While author Dean Koontz sells nearly as many books as Stephen King, and has actually been writing for longer than King has, there have been significantly fewer film adaptations of Koontz’s works, and none that have garnered all that much recognition or critical praise. 1977’s Demon Seed is pretty fantastic, and Watchers from 1988 is goofy fun, but movies based on Koontz’s novels tend to be fairly forgettable, and sometimes even wretched, unfortunately.

In 2011, though, writer/director Stephen Sommers⁠—known for massive Hollywood hits like The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, and Van Helsing, as well as for the underrated 1998 monster movie Deep Rising⁠—decided to try his hand at adapting Koontz’s best-selling 2003 novel Odd Thomas to the big screen. The book was actually the first in a string of stories featuring the title character; the series eventually ended up comprising six sequel novels, three prequel graphic novels, and two sort of spinoff novellas. Though Odd Thomas the movie would sadly prove to be a standalone, it’s notable for being pretty damn great, and easily the best Dean Koontz adaptation by a country mile.

Though the film was finished in 2011, various legal problems with the production company stalled its release until 2013, and even then, it barely registered with the moviegoing public, sneaking into theaters briefly and then fading into relative obscurity, not even making a tiny fraction of its $27 million budget back. It received some renewed attention in 2016 following the tragic death of its young star Anton Yelchin in a freak accident, but it still seems to fly beneath many horror lovers’ radars, and that’s a crying shame, because it’s a fast-paced, fun, and surprisingly heartfelt roller-coaster ride of a film.

Yelchin plays Odd Thomas—and yes, that’s really his name—a lovable twenty-something man working as a fry cook in a small town called Pico Mundo in the American Southwest. Odd has a simple existence, working and hanging out with the love of his life, Bronwen “Stormy” Llewelyn, who has been his girlfriend since they were both children. Stormy works at an ice cream shop in the local mall.

Odd has an unusual gift, though; much like Cole in The Sixth Sense, he can see dead people. But largely unlike Cole, Odd actually goes out and investigates mysteries based on what the dead people convey to him, even kicking serious ass when necessary. For example, near the beginning of the story, he sees a little girl who was recently murdered, and she leads him to her killer, a local man who Odd knows. Odd chases the man down, beats the crap out of him, and then sees that he gets arrested. Happily, the chief of police, played charmingly by Willem Dafoe, knows about and trusts Odd’s gift, and is always willing to engineer things so that the world at large doesn’t find out too much about what Odd can do.

Not too long into the movie, Odd starts to sense that there might be something very big and very bad looming on the horizon. Recently he’s been seeing a lot more of what he calls bodachs—weird, demon-like creatures that feed on human suffering. (Bodachs are actually a thing in Gaelic folklore; they’re sort of boogeymen or trickster spirits.) The bodachs don’t cause evil things to happen, but they do start lurking around when they know something really terrible is going to go down, and Odd is starting to see them crawling all over the place, implying that a huge number of people in Pico Mundo are going to die very soon. No one can see the bodachs but him, but he has to take care that the bodachs don’t know that he can see them, because if they realize that he can, they’ll kill him.

Not only that, but Odd further has a disturbing dream/vision in which a number of people wearing red and black bowling shirts and having no faces are screaming at him to help them. His co-worker Viola also has a nightmare about herself and an unknown bowling-shirted person being shot and killed.

Knowing that something awful is coming down the pipe but not knowing exactly when or what, Odd begins trying to piece together the mystery so he can prevent the disaster from taking place. Because a strange man he sees at the restaurant he works at seems to have bodachs constantly shadowing him, Odd deduces that this man—who he dubs Fungus Bob because of his bizarre hairstyle—must be tied to whatever tragedy is brewing, and Odd begins to follow the man to try to get to the bottom of things before it’s too late.

From there, the film is essentially a gripping series of twists, turns, and action set-pieces as Odd races against time to figure out what’s going to happen and who is responsible for it. In tone, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of Peter Jackson’s 1996 film The Frighteners; it’s funny and lighthearted in places, and an entertaining thrill-ride with some cool special effects, but also has a great deal of darkness to it, and ends with a crushing emotional wallop that made me think someone was cutting onions nearby, not gonna lie to you.

It’s a damn disgrace that this movie didn’t find an audience and was such a financial failure, and it’s heartbreaking that Anton Yelchin died so young, just when he seemed on the cusp of super-stardom. Had circumstances been different, I think this would have made an excellent opening salvo in a series of films based on Koontz’s Odd Thomas books, but to be honest, I don’t think anyone but Yelchin could have played that role; he was perfectly cast as the title character.

If you like offbeat, paranormal-based action horror with some dark comedy sprinkled in, then Odd Thomas should fit the bill, and it definitely deserves more love than it got.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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