The Omen Review

The Omen isn't a movie, it's a marketing gimmick. Some clever executive at 20th Century Fox obviously spotted the potential of releasing an Omen movie on June 6th 2006 (ie: 6/6/6) and so a remake was commissioned. And this is a remake in the most literal sense of the word: it's the same movie made again. The filmmakers haven't tried to re-imagine it or add their own ideas; they've simply taken David Seltzer's thirty-year-old script and re-shot it, scene by scene, line by line. It's the most redundant remake since Gus Van Sant's Psycho.

The story once again centres on little Damien Thorn (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), the five-year-old son of America's ambassador to Britain, Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) and his wife Kathy (Julia Stiles). Except, as only Robert knows, Damien isn't really their son. Their natural son died at birth in a Rome hospital. To spare Kathy the trauma of losing a baby, Robert conspired with a priest to replace him with another boy whose mother died bearing him.

Years later, as the child celebrates his fifth birthday, strange events occur. Damien's nanny hangs herself at the child's birthday party and a sinister new child-minder (Mia Farrow) replaces her. A press photographer (David Thewlis) notices weird blemishes on photos of people connected to the Thorns. Kathy starts to imagine that her son harbours malignant feelings towards her. A priest (Pete Postlethwaite) confronts Robert at his embassy, babbling prophecies from the Book of Revelations - prophecies about the rise of the Antichrist, the son of Satan.

Seltzer's story is a good one but it's been told already, very effectively, by director Richard Donner in 1976. This retread adds nothing and fails to recapture the atmosphere and the suspense that Donner created. Instead it has the lassitude of a film re-telling a familiar story to no obvious purpose. I watched it, semi-interested, checking off scenes, dialogue and events without ever engaging with the movie. If you've seen the original Omen, there's no reason to watch this. If you haven't seen it, can I persuade you to seek out Donner's film rather than waste your time on the remake?

Director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Flight Of The Phoenix) shows no feeling for the material. Like Wolfgang Petersen, who made last week's overblown remake of The Poseidon Adventure, he simply throws money at the screen and hopes the inflated production values and over-dramatic lighting will distract audiences from the pointlessness of the project. Everything's bigger, lusher, flashier. When Thorn and the photographer visit an Italian monastery, they park their car by a lake and they're rowed across the misty water by a monk in a white hood, a detail not in the original film. It's a nice visual but an unnecessary one and the effect is spoiled when an overhead shot of the monastery reveals it has a road.

Moore throws in a number of unnecessary bells and whistles that add nothing to the story, for example nightmare sequences featuring satanic imagery and cheap shocks. These only serve to cheapen the film and validate Richard Donner's decision to strip out this stuff and play his movie on a more realistic level. There's also a new prologue which tastelessly uses footage from 9/11 and other real-life disasters to demonstrate the fulfilment of various Biblical prophecies.

Curiously, we don't get new death scenes. The Omen was famous in its day for its spectacular killings and I would have thought the new version would have upped the gore content, if only to try to compete with the Final Destination series, the contemporary equivalent of the Omen saga and the stealer of many of its ideas. However, apart from a tame limo explosion early on, the same characters die in exactly the same ways, with roughly the same amount of bloodshed. In other words I can't even recommend this film as a guilty pleasure for gorehounds.

Of the cast, only Liev Schreiber, in the Gregory Peck role, makes an impression. This surprised me, as I would have expected Peck's shoes to be the hardest to fill, but Schreiber's sympathetic performance is the best thing in the film. He certainly makes it easier to endure. Unfortunately Julia Stiles is hopelessly miscast as Kathy - twenty-four at the time of filming, she still looks barely out of high school and more like an ambassador's daughter than his wife.

Good actors like Pete Postlethwaite, David Thewlis and Michael Gambon play their supporting parts adequately but less memorably than Patrick Troughton, David Warner and Leo McKern did the first time around. While you have to acknowledge the wit in casting Mia Farrow (the mother of Rosemary's Baby) as the devil child's protector, her performance won't make you forget Billie Whitelaw.

Most damagingly, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, who plays Damien, looks like exactly what he is: a nondescript child-actor instructed to look menacing. This completely misses the point. Damien is supposed to be an innocent child who doesn't realise he's the Antichrist - the Devil works around him, not through him. Davey-Fitzpatrick comes off as a little boy trying too hard to act satanic. When he scrunches up his face and glowers, it's same expression my friend's seven-year-old puts on when his mum makes him turn off his Playstation.



out of 10

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