Sunday 12 May 2019

On demand: "Odd Thomas"

The Dean Koontz adaptation Odd Thomas is the kind of offbeam item that a major studio might, in the pre-MCU era, have fashioned into something more than just a niche festival favourite, stumbled across on a streaming service. Had it been a hit upon its initial release back in 2013, it might have inspired sequels (as, indeed, Koontz has published), or perhaps a TV spin-off in the jovial comic-horror vein of Reaper or Ash vs. Evil Dead; as a standalone watch, it's the closest this century has given us to Peter Jackson's The Frighteners, another curio that wasn't seen by as many people as it perhaps should have been. Stephen Sommers, who once had a career at the heart of the mainstream (The Mummy, Van Helsing), directs Anton Yelchin as the eponymous Tom, a small-town short order cook plagued by visitations from spirits who either need pointing towards the light or offer warnings of dire carnage to come; this being one of Yelchin's final screen credits before his tragically early death in 2016, there's an unexpected poignancy to an early scene in which he attempts to console one of his otherworldly visitors ("I'm sorry your life was so short"). These swarming spectres allow Sommers to indulge that fondness for VFX that sunk several of his higher-profile assignments, yet crucially they're not the whole picture here.

Odd Thomas stutters in setting up its unusual premise - Yelchin's voiceover speaks to tricky sessions in the edit suite - but Koontz's novel gives the film a narrative backbone in a countdown to Doomsday cued by the arrival of a shambling outsider, even odder than Thomas, going under the name Fungus Bob (Shuler Hensley, in a role that would once have been the preserve of Vincent d'Onofrio). The supernatural murder-mystery that follows - a pre-emptive quest for the one who's gonna do it - is a little cursory but characterful, with a fun mishmash cast suggesting a community under threat: Willem Dafoe is the relaxed chief of police who finds Thomas's intuitions interrupting his altogether active sex life; Addison Timlin the ice cream parlour waitress who takes her sweetheart's visions in commendable stride; a pre-fame Gugu Mbatha-Raw the single mom who runs the town diner; and Yelchin is appealingly puppyish as a put-upon boy-next-door trying to give everyone around him some peace. It doesn't all work, but it builds towards a genuinely risky mass-panic finale that would presumably have left it unreleasable in certain weeks (you'll see why), and emerges as the first Sommers film you might conceivably be interested in seeing in director's-cut form.

Odd Thomas is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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