I got to watch a new film that has thus far only been making the festival rounds, Odd Thomas And this is strange, because it is a major production by Stephen Sommers, who directed The Mummy and other blockbusters. It is based upon the Dean Koontz novel of the same name. And the the film stars Anton Yelchin (the new Star Trek Chekov) and Willem Dafoe. Still, I can see why there might be problems with providing the film a wide release.
Odd Thomas is interesting without being engaging. Thomas is some kind of psychic who can talk to the dead. He’s been having dreams about the slaughter of what looks like a bowling team. He takes this to mean that some great evil is about to take place. So he investigates and manages to save the day. It helps that Thomas is not only psychic but some kind of fearless Ethan Hunt acrobat from Mission Impossible. And that all works the way that cop films usually work. The problem comes in when Thomas is interacting with living humans who he is attached to. In these scenes, otherwise fine actors come off like they are doing the dress rehearsal of the high school play. This is almost certainly the fault of Sommers who wrote, directed and produced the film all by his lonesome.
The film is also a comedy. And much of that works brilliantly. But all three parts of the film: comedy, personal, and the coming bowling apocalypse are monolithic. They rarely, if ever mesh. So as a viewer, I felt, “Here’s a horror scene; here’s a scene about Thomas’ love for that sassy Stormy Llewellyn; here’s a funny scene about a ghost haunting a tire shop.” None of this is to say that the film is bad. I think that Sommers is trying to do something new. It doesn’t seem to jell here, but he might be onto something. Regardless, at least it isn’t the same old timed tricks for a horror film.
I think the larger problem is the source material. The film is firmly based in Christian dogma without embracing it. The bad guys, for example, are satanists. That’s just laughable—one of the most tired cliches in all of literature. That isn’t to say it can’t be used to great effect as in William Hjortsberg’s excellent Falling Angel. But the film doesn’t contrast this devil worship with God the Father, but rather with a “feel good” spirituality that might be too vague for the Unitarians.
I’ll admit, Odd Thomas does rub against some very sore areas of my psyche. I just don’t believe in the cosmic struggle of Good versus Evil. If I am to except any kind of system like that, it either should be simply Good versus different Good (the kind of narrative I tend to write) or Ambiguous versus Evil. Because it is hard enough to accept that someone is simply evil; at the very least, you want to get some motivation—some justification. And we all know that there is no such thing as a person who is unarguably good.
The ultimate problem with thoroughly enjoying the film is that one is clearly expected to take the main plot of Thomas versus the satanists seriously. But it isn’t anymore serious than The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu, a delightful film that doesn’t expect the viewer to take it anymore seriously than it does itself. And this is what makes Sommers effort worthy, but ultimately dissatisfying. It’s not clear if the serious conflict between Good and Evil can ever be effectively melded with the booger joke.