The Omen (2006)
Director : John Moore
Screenplay : David Seltzer
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Liev Schreiber (Robert Thorn), Julia Stiles (Kate Thorn), David Thewlis (Keith Jennings), Pete Postlethwaite (Father Brennan), Mia Farrow (Mrs. Baylock), Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (Damien), Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Father Spiletto), Amy Huck (Nanny)
The opening scene of John Moore's remake of 1976's The Omen presents us with a series of uneasy recent news images--the space shuttle exploding, the Twin Towers falling, the tsunami in Thailand, violence in the Middle East--that are meant to be interpreted as the fulfillment of signs in Biblical scripture forecasting the coming of the Antichrist, but they also work double duty to justify the existence of yet another remake of a 1970s horror classic. After all, the images argue, considering everything horrible that has been happening in the world lately, we seem closer to Armageddon than we ever have. Plus, how could the producers miss the opportunity to have an Omen movie released on 6/6/06?
The opening is one of the few moments when Moore allows The Omen to diverge substantially from Richard Donner's original, which spawned three sequels and a strong fear among many of stoic, dark-haired children. Otherwise, it is an extremely faithful remake, right down to reproducing exact shots and large sections of dialogue (which is most likely due to the fact that screenwriter David Seltzer also wrote the 1976 original, as well as the novelization).
Liev Schreiber steps into Gregory Peck's sturdy shoes as Robert Thorn, a U.S. ambassador in Rome who, unbeknownst to his wife Kate (Julia Stiles), allows his stillborn child to be replaced by a orphaned newborn. It seems like a good idea at the time--adopting a parentless child and sparing his wife the pain of knowing her child was born dead--but as the years pass, it becomes clear that their little Damien is not just any kid.
The narrative trajectory of The Omen follows Thorn as he comes to the slow realization that he is, in fact, raising the Antichrist, whose coming was prophesized by the Book of Revelation. Thorn is first alerted to this by Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite), a distraught priest who was at the hospital the night his "son" was born and claims ominously to see have seen his nonhuman mother. The connection is strengthened when Thorn is contacted by Keith Jennings (David Thewlis), a British tabloid photographer whose photos mysteriously foretell death for those who learn Damien's secret.
The Omen doesn't really improve on its predecessor, unless you count the inspired casting of Mia Farrow as Damien's devilish nanny, thus turning the unwitting mother of Rosemary's Baby into the spawn of Satan's caretaker. One of the primary fascinations with the original Omen and its sequel was its grisly death scenes (in many ways, the film was little more than a slasher film with an elaborate plot to justify the deaths). These are kept largely intact in the remake, but with a few modifications and allowances for ramped-up CGI.
For his part, John Moore (Flight of the Phoenix) resists the urge that has possessed so many recent horror film directors (especially those doing remakes) to dive headfirst into aesthetic overdrive. Moore adds a few visual flourishes here and there, but otherwise keeps the look of the film simple and direct, which intensifies its solemn seriousness. His only real failing is the inclusion of a couple of demonic dream sequences, which exist for no reason other than an excuse to insert some creepy imagery and make the audience jump in their seats a few more times.
The film's other primary weakness is the performance by Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, who has taken the role of little Damien originated by Harvey Stephens (who did not go on to an acting career, but does appear in the remake in a cameo as a tabloid reporter). Given the preponderance of creepy children in horror movies as of late, especially in the wake of J-horror's influence, one can only image that John Moore felt a great deal of pressure to make Damien, who is perhaps cinema's preeminent evil toddler, unforgettably creepy.
However, in his zeal to creep us out, Moore forgot the subtle brilliance of Damien's portrayal in the original, which was largely as a pawn. The most unsettling thing about the original Omen was how it depicted Damien essentially coming into his own by realizing what he was. In Moore's remake, Damien seems evil from the outset; Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick is constantly furrowing his brow, frowning, or smiling malevolently. By the time we get to the inevitable final scene, where Damien is about to be ushered into the most powerful family in the world, the turn and smile he gives the camera, which was so effectively disturbing in the original (he knows!), just doesn't have the same power because we've seen that malevolence one too many times already.
Copyright © 2006 James Kendrick
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