Friday, 27 November 2015

Film Review - 'Odd Thomas'

Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin - and, yes, 'Odd' actually is his real name. It was a typo on his birth certificate, apparently) was born with the ability to see dead people - an ability which he inherited from his mother. After seeing the toll that this ability took on his mother, first-hand, Odd grew up believing that he needed to be careful about who he could revealed his secret to. Still, Odd was a young man who clearly also wanted to do the right thing - believing that his ability was a gift that he was obligated to use. So, that is exactly what he has done - devoting his time to helping spirits resolve their issues whenever he can, while striving to keep the rest of his life simple and uncomplicated.

Along with the ability to see spirits of the dead, though, Odd is also able to see creatures called Bodachs - demonic entities who are drawn to pain and suffering. With his life-time of experience dealing with supernatural matters, Odd has learnt that the presence of a Bodach tends to indicate some manner of tragedy in the future. So, when he sees a swarm of the creatures, all centred around a single man, Odd is understandably worried that something bad is about to happen. His fears also seem to be confirmed by a dream in which he witnesses people being gunned down by a mysterious figure. So, with the aid of his long-time girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) and local chief of police Wyatt Porter (Willem Defoe), both of whom are aware of Odd's ability, he sets out to investigate - and, hopefully, avert a tragic event.

It is certainly refreshing to be able to skip over the usual 'origin story' stuff, here. The world that we are introduced to is one in which Odd has already come to terms with his abilities. It is one where he has already begun to use his abilities to help people. And, most importantly, it is one in which he was already successfully managed to convinced the people closest to him that what he can do is real. We're certainly free to assume that all of the usual 'origin story' tropes played out for Odd. That he, for example, went through a phase of trying to deny his own gifts - or, that he struggled to convince people that he wasn't crazy. But, it's not something that we actually need to see. What we get, instead, feels much more like a single episode in the life of our hero - a much more dire situation than anything he had faced up until this point, perhaps, but nothing entirely out of the ordinary for him. Considering that the 'origin story' is typically considered to be the most boring part of this sort of tale, it's commendable that the film manages to show that it can be skipped, if you're willing to get a little creative.

Things get off to a great start. A fantastic opening scene, showing the spirit of a young woman leading Odd to the man who murdered her, sets the scene perfectly. The short introductory sequence effectively tells us everything we need to know - establishing the rules of this fictional world, showing us Odd's abilities in action, and firmly establishing Odd as a compassionate and genuinely likable hero. Of course, it also doesn't hurt that Anton Yelchin does a great job in the role. Willem Defoe is also (perhaps predictably) great in his role as the surrogate father figure and mentor to our young hero - someone who, for reasons that are never revealed, is prepared to place a great deal of faith in a young man with gifts that he cannot understand.

But, then, there's Stormy. I appreciated the role she was intended to play in the story. She may have been the designated love interest, sure - but, she was also proactive, self-assured, and confident. Even though she didn't share Odd's abilities, it was entirely believable that he would come to depend on her as much as he clearly does. That being said, though, the character still bothered me. The way she carried herself, the way she spoke, and the dialogue she was given, all felt horribly unnatural to me. It seems likely that they were simply trying to capture the way that the character spoke in the books, only to find themselves backed into a corner - with Addison Timlin finding herself forced to do the best she can with dialogue that just doesn't work when actually spoken. I feel a little bad about dwelling on this point, but it did genuinely bother me. In the end, she felt less like a genuinely quirky young woman, and more like someone putting on horribly contrived affectations in order to make herself seem interesting (also, she insists on calling herself 'Stormy', which really doesn't help).

For the most part, Odd's skills and abilities make perfect sense. His ability to see the dead is the entire basis of the film, after all. And, it's also clearly mentioned early on that he had developed an interest in learning self-defence at a young age - which explains his ability to hold his own in a fight. The same can't really be said for his 'psychic magnetism', though - an ability which, we are expected to accept, allows him to wander about aimlessly and eventually be psychically drawn to wherever he needs to go, or whoever he happens to be looking for. It's more than a little absurd - and, it's made so much worse by the fact that there are a couple of clear points where the film relies on it. It is, quite literally, an ability solely designed to push things forward whenever the plot is in danger of grinding to a halt. As a cover for lazy writing, it's actually fairly creative - though, it still doesn't really make for satisfying story-telling.

Admittedly, despite getting off to a great start, Odd Thomas does start to drag a bit throughout the second act - spending, perhaps, a bit too much time stumbling about as he tries to figure out the exact nature of this seemingly inevitable tragedy. And, this is also where we find the instances of his 'psychic magnetism' in action. But, fortunately, it does all manage to come together for a tense and, suitably, dramatic climax.

Despite the nagging issues I had, Odd Thomas still made for an entertaining film. How well it holds up next to Dean Koontz's original novel is a question I can't really answer, though (it's not a book I've ever read. Honestly, I hadn't even heard of it before seeing the film adaptation). But, on its own, its fun and often exciting - and, provided that you can overlook the film's issues, it is well worth your time.

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