Before I get into last night’s early feature at Toronto After Dark, I want to say a quick blurb about the short film that screened before it. Every year, a Canadian short will screen before each feature film of the festival, and last night’s film was paired with a wicked little short by Adam Schafer called Down Bob. There’s something oddly charming about the protagonist, Bob, who only wants to help people. Then he meets Lucy, and his whole world changes. The majority of the film is done in voice-over from inside Bob’s head, and the lines come so fast and furious sometimes that it’s had to keep track of them all. It’s hilarious, sweet, and some quick edits during the violent climax serve the overall film very well. I really enjoyed this one, to the point of needing to mention it here, as well as provide a link to the film itself here, so you can check it out, too! Make sure to watch right through the credits at the end for the beautiful dedication, too.
After Down Bob got us geared up, we were treated to the new feature from Stephen Sommers, Odd Thomas. Based on a series of books by Dean Koontz (the first of which shares the same title), the film focuses on a young man whose name is actually Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin), though he never got a straight answer from either parent as to why that is. Turns out that, while Odd appears to be just like everyone else, he does happen to possess one particular ability which sets him apart – he can see dead people. And, when he’s approached by one who has died wrongfully, Odd does his best to help catch their killer. He’s aided in his quest by police chief, Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe) and his beautiful girlfriend, Stormy Llewellyn (Addison Timlin). They are pretty much the only people who know about Odd’s abilities, aside from a very few close friends like Viola Peabody (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
The film opens with our introduction to Odd, followed quickly by the arrival of a mysterious silent visitor whom Odd follows to a quiet intersection near his home. He stops a man driving by in a car (Harlo Landerson, played by Matthew Page) and proceeds to have a chat with the man, at which point Odd reveals that he knows what horrible crime Harlo has committed. Harlo takes off on foot, and Odd races after him, leading to an amazingly-choreographed and somewhat brutal fight scene. This high-powered opening set the tone for the rest of the film, and from there, it was all about trying to solve a mystery with Odd and company, rather than watching him try to figure everything out for us. The audience is right there with him, every step of the way.
Part of that is Yelchin’s screen presence – his ability to draw you in with his sincere and steady gaze. One of the strongest aspects of the film for me was the wonderful depiction of his relationship with Stormy. The chemistry between Yelchin and Timlin is palpable every second of their shared screen time, and it’s that chemistry that humanizes them and makes them incredibly easy to relate to. Odd Thomas is as much a love story as it is a mystery and a ghost story, and all of the elements of each are there. When Odd starts seeing an overwhelming number of bodachs (invisible creatures which signal some form of violent impending death) surrounding one strange yet specific man, he is determined to find a way to stop whatever disaster is coming their way, even if it means putting himself in mortal danger.
I had not read the book, so went into the screening pretty cold, and I am glad I did. I was somewhat surprised by how easy it was for me to slide into the world created on screen, and understand it on what I felt was roughly the same level as someone who would be reading the book for the first time. There can often be a period of adjustment required when starting into something new, but to me, this town, these characters, and their relationships all seemed to be fully realized within the film setting. I didn’t feel like I ever needed to catch up to what Odd was thinking, and likewise, I never felt like I had everything figured out way before him, how dumb can he be, etc. Even when I thought I knew who the bad guy was, or what someone’s next step would be, I found I was generally wrong – or at least not quite right – and yet never felt like the reveals came out of nowhere. Odd Thomas is a listen to your gut but keep your eyes open kind of film, and I loved it so much that I hope to read the book soon. And, truth be told, I really hope there are more films to come.