THE OMEN (2006)
Director: John Moore
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, David Thewlis, Mia Farrow, Pete Postlethwaite, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
MPAA Rating: (for disturbing violent content, graphic images and some language)
Running Time: 1:50
Release Date: 6/6/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
Yet another supposed classic gets the remake treatment, and it brings up the eternal remake question yet again. Not why remake great films, but why not remake flawed movies and work out some of the kinks? That could easily have been the case with The Omen. In certain circles, I suppose, the 1976 original is seen as a horror classic, but I am outside of that circle. It's flawed, concentrating more on the progression of grotesquery in the death scenes and spiritual mumbo jumbo than dealing with the tougher issues that could arise from parents seeing their child as a being of pure evil, but entertaining. I suppose, in a way, it is the precursor to our modern horror genre, which concentrates entirely on making each new death scene more gruesome than the last while dabbling in certain deeper issues and never coming close to exploring them. Perhaps now is the best time to get this story out again, although that is not meant as a commentary on the strength of the original but the poor state of the horror genre today. This version of The Omen comes prepackaged, nearly identical to the original, and as such, it is unnecessary.
The movie opens in Vatican City, as a Vatican astronomer sights a strange celestial anomaly. Elsewhere in Rome, Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) has arrived at the maternity ward to join his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles). Father Spiletto (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), the priest there, tells him his wife is fine but the child has passed. He then gives Robert an option: to pretend another child, whose mother and family are all dead, is their own, saving Katherine the heartache. Five years later, Robert has ascended to the position of the United States ambassador in England after the mysterious death of his former boss. He has kept the story of swapping newborns from his wife, and their son Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is celebrating his fifth birthday. Tragedy strikes his party, though, when his nanny spots a mysterious black dog, wanders up to the roof, and hangs herself. Soon after, Robert is confronted by Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite), who says he was there the day Robert's son was born and puts into his head the possibility that Damien might be evil incarnate—the Antichrist.
We already know Damien is the spawn of Satan and knew it even before the beginning of the original film. That is part of the problem inherent with the material, which leaves no ambiguity as to the child's identity or that perhaps his parents are overreacting to the apocalyptic ramblings of zealots who see signs of Armageddon everywhere. Adding to the problem, Damien, more pantomimed than played by Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, is creepy to the point of hilarity. Director John Moore clearly gave the young actor little direction other than to look evil (achieved with squinted eyes and a jutted lower lip). If Damien were just an ordinary boy with horrible things happening around him it would add a genuine conflict to the story, but that's not what this version has or the original had in mind. The problem then is why Robert is so doubtful of Damien's evil even after an attempted matricide (Damien's drawing of the hung nanny on the wall should have been a giveaway as well). So with Robert's detective work into his son's genealogy a situation whose end result is a given, all that's left to focus on are the grisly deaths.
Screenwriter David Seltzer penned the original script and this one, and he obviously has no intention of expanding on his original concept, staying the course of the original movie pretty much exactly. He differs a bit on the death scenes, primarily one which changes a plate glass window into a falling sign, but everything else is a photocopy. Why, then, is there a need for this remake? Is it simply to modernize the production values, add some contemporary faces to the story, and try to catch our society's doom's day zeitgeist (images of 9/11 and the Asian Tsunami are thrown in to add a perverse relevance to the end-time theory)? There's clearly no artistic ambition present. Moore and cinematographer Jonathan Sela use a lot of handheld work, and the movie is dark without being indecipherable. None of this exactly earth-shattering, but it is a cut above some recent outings in the genre. Editor Dan Zimmerman succeeds a few times in eliciting genuine startles, particularly in a graveyard scene that starts out creepy, turns cathartic, and ends with an unexpected jump. The performances from Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles help a bit to elevate the material, and Mia Farrow's appearance as the demented nanny Mrs. Baylock adds an interesting if bizarre camp value.
Then again, maybe The Omen is all about camp value. Consider the movie's release date, 6/6/06—"the mark of the beast," the Antichrist's calling card. That's a marketing campaign that sells itself, which, I suppose, is a good thing, since there's hardly anything in the movie to sell itself.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.