Adapted from a novel by Dean Koontz, “Odd Thomas” is a breezy action horror movie that plays out like the kid from “The Sixth Sense” grew up and grew a spine. As the film’s tagline goes: ‘I see dead people, but then, by God, I do something about it’.
Part ‘Ghost Whisperer’, part ‘Equalizer’, Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) lives in a the small Californian town of Pico Mundo, working as a short order cook. The oddest thing about Odd (apart from his name; the result of a typo on his birth certificate) is that he can see the spirits of the dead, although he cannot hear them. Rather than fear this gift, he uses it to help the spirits gain a measure of justice and closure, using their ‘witness statements’ to solve murders and other crimes.
The film opens with Odd being approached by the ghost of a teenage girl who leads him to a street where Harlo Landerson, a local jock drives by, stopping to say hello to Odd. Odd tells him he knows he raped and killed the young girl forcing Landerson to make a run for it. After pursuing him on foot, Odd finally brings him to ground in a knock down brawl in a stranger’s house and waits for the police to show up. Fortunately, local Sherriff Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe) is aware of Odd’s abilities and often helps ‘spin’ the story to ensure the guilty are punished but Odd’s abilities don’t become public knowledge.
Apart from solving the occasional crime, though, Odd’s life seems pretty sweet. He enjoys his job and is dating the girl of his dreams, Stormy Llwellyn (Addison Timlin). However, when he spots an unusual number of bodachs (spectral creatures who feed on death and destruction) converging on the town and starts to see visions of dozens of dead people, Odd must unravel a conspiracy which threatens the entire town and stop a massacre before it happens.
The film stays pretty close to the book and Anton Yelchin is perfect as the eponymous hero, likeable and believable in the role of good-natured avenging angel. Willem Dafoe is in full rumpled charm mode as gruff, sympathetic Police Chief while Addison Timlin is a perky and likeable presence as the most understanding and tolerant girlfriend in all of fiction.
Written and directed by Stephen Sommers (“The Mummy”, “The Mummy Returns”, “G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra”, “Van Helsing”), the independently produced film occasionally veers uneasily from spooky mystery to grisly horror without really finding the sweet spot in between but despite that, it’s still a satisfying introduction to the characters and universe of Odd. The flair for balancing action and a lighter tone Sommers demonstrated in his previous works is on show here and he keeps the story moving at a brisk pace but the limited budget and decidedly down to earth locations rob the film of a cinematic feel, making it seem more like the (admittedly classy) pilot for a forthcoming TV series.
Unfortunately, being an independent production didn’t do it any favours. Although free from potential studio interference, a long running series of legal disputes between the production companies involved robbed it of any chance to be released and marketed properly and that’s a shame. It’s not a film to set the world alight but it’s got a solid, well-crafted mystery story wrapped in an intriguing premise and a great central performance by Yelchin to carry it.