Omen, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Omen is regarded as a horror classic, although I have never been able to figure out why Richard Donner's second-rate exploitation flick has been accorded such a lofty status. Since the 2006 re-make is almost identical to its predecessor (even using essentially the same script), there's no reason to expect me to think more highly of this film. To the extent that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the crew behind the original might be expected to blush. From my perspective, however, the only reason to embark upon a re-make is to offer a new, unique, or interesting perspective. All that The Omen succeeds at is proving that director John Moore could have a nice alternative career working for Xerox.

The first version of The Omen came out in 1976, during a time when apocalyptic beliefs and scenarios were the rage. The idea that we might be in a Biblical "end time" was a popular pop theory, and it led to a lot of pointless speculation about what prominent individual might fit the profile of the so-called Antichrist. The Omen capitalized on this phenomenon, and was popular enough to spin off two sequels. Thirty years later, however, many of the film's elements seem quaint, almost to the point of being anachronistic. Admittedly, there are still segments of Christianity that preach the imminent approach of the end of the world, but they are mostly seen as fringe groups. The collapse of the USSR removed the Apocalypse from the mainstream.

For U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Italy Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) and his wife, Katherine (Julia Stiles), tragedy occurs on June 6 when their first child is stillborn. A priest at the hospital offers Robert an option: he can "trade" his dead son for a healthy baby boy whose mother passed away during the birthing process. Katherine need never know the truth. Robert agrees. Five years later, the parents and their son, Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), are living in London. They employ a nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow), to help care for the boy. However, people all around Damien are dying, and Katherine becomes convinced that he is possessed by an evil force. A fanatical priest (Pete Posthethwaite) and a journalist (David Thewlis) believe something more astonishing: Damien is the anti-Christ.

To give Moore credit, he does a good job at peppering The Omen with "boo!" moments. I'm usually immune to cheap theatrical scares, but a couple of these, with their ear-splitting musical stings, got me. Unfortunately, that's all the movie has going for it. Those who have seen the original The Omen will find nothing new or surprising here. It's the most literal remake since Gus Van Sant copied Psycho. One of the few new elements to be found in The Omen is a shot of the World Trade Center collapsing - a moment that will raise legitimate questions about using the image for exploitative purposes.

There's an ironic parallel between The Omen and The Da Vinci Code. The latter follows the protagonist and his side-kick as they travel across Europe seeking clues about a descendant of Jesus Christ. In The Omen, a protagonist and his sidekick travel across Europe seeking clues about a descendant of Satan. Both films are as unappealing as watching a scavenger hunt. At least The Da Vinci Code contains enough controversial elements to sex things up. All The Omen has going for it are dubious interpretations of Biblical passages and a satisfyingly gory decapitation. Plus, David Thewlis is not as easy on the eyes as Audrey Tautou.

Moore has recruited a lackluster cast. Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber are B-grade performers who have avoided stardom because they're boring, and they live up to their reputations here. David Thewlis, who normally plays the heavy, gets a chance to take on more of a "good guy" role. Mia Farrow, who has a Satanic baby in her past, is creepy as Nanny Baylock. One can understand why Woody Allen left her. Pete Postlethwaite, who has made a career out of playing weird characters, is in his environment here. Michael Gambon has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo. Finally, newcomer Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick has no trouble exhibiting Damien's blank stare, although that's about as far as his acting capabilities go.

I suppose what's unique about The Omen is the concept that a seemingly defenseless child is the spawn of the Devil. It brings to mind the conundrum about traveling back in time to stand beside Hitler's crib. Could you kill the child, even knowing the great evil that would result from his surviving into adulthood? Unfortunately, Robert's moral dilemma isn't presented in a compelling fashion. We know from the beginning that Damien is rotten to the core. Robert's qualms about driving a variety of knives into his son's body seem like a weakness of character or spirit. (One also has to ask this question: if the Pope and his advisors believe Damien to be the Antichrist, why leave it to Robert to commit the assassination. Why not order a Vatican-orchestrated hit, which would presumably have a greater chance of succeeding?)

It's hard to guess who the projected audience is for The Omen. Maybe the only reason the film was made is because someone thought up a good marketing ploy for opening day (6/6/06, which replicates the "666" Sign of the Beast). The R-rating locks out the teenage crowd, who are today's biggest consumers of PG-13 horror. It's hard to imagine college age movie goers being attracted by such a passé premise. And fans of the original will end up doing shot-by-shot comparisons. On every level, The Omen isn't just bad filmmaking, it's bad storytelling.

Omen, The (United States, 2006)

Director: John Moore
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, David Thewlis, Mia Farrow, Pete Postlethwaite, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Screenplay: David Seltzer
Cinematography: Jonathan Sela
Music: Marco Beltrami
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2006-06-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1