2006Director: John Moore
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Mia Farrow
he most frightening moment in the 1976 version of The Omen occurred when Damien’s nanny hung herself from the roof of Gregory Peck’s mansion. You could hear her voice calling out to Damien from the rooftop just faintly above the noise of his birthday party, but the film didn’t immediately reveal her intentions. By the time you distinguished the noose around her neck, the act was already set in motion. That the nanny confronted her death with such a cheery mood furnished the scene with a disquieting atmosphere. Her death was swift and brutal, and the image of her lifeless body swinging against the manor walls remains etched in my memory. Unfortunately the remainder of the original film became too bogged down in its exaggerated plot to reproduce that scene of unbridled dread.
With this in mind, I half expected the new version of The Omen to shackle itself to the vogue tactic of remakes: simply attempt to outdo the original in the most ostentatious way possible. Surprisingly, though, 2006’s The Omen actually manages to strengthen the tone of the original—tightening its pacing, intensifying its frights—without actually deviating far from its relatively austere nature (especially when compared to its modern day equivalents in the genre). Not that this generates stupendous results. Even a slightly improved version still retains the onerous faults of the former. It does however illustrate that remaking a mediocre film can often become more beneficial than tampering with a classic. Unless you believe the original Omen to fit that category. I’d argue that most people recall its most visceral images with a faded memory; something a second viewing would likely correct—a viewing that would also reveal the film’s gaudiness and cast some doubt on the unwarranted timelessness bestowed upon it.
One facet the remake has on its side is a recent proliferation of real-world tragedies that, for better or worse, the filmmakers incorporate into its apocalyptic plot; tragedies like the collapse of the World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina, and the death of Pope John Paul—the previous two being interpreted as signs of the impending birth of the antichrist as detailed in the Book of Revelations. This generates the illusion that it may not just be a film about the apocalypse, but an indication that the real apocalypse may already be upon us. Whether this warrants an inclusion of the World Trade Center collapsing in a film of this caliber remains questionable.
For those of you who have seen the original Omen, this version will possess one glaring flaw—and it’s a major one—in that it adheres so tenaciously to the plot of the previous film that it leaves little room for surprise. It’s an idea, I’m assuming, the studio felt wouldn’t pose too much of a threat considering that the majority of theatre-goers heading out to see it on opening weekend have not seen the original.
Regardless, the setup will feel familiar, because it’s such a well-known premise. After his child dies at birth, Robert Thorn (Live Schreiber) agrees to adopt an orphaned infant in its place without revealing this switch to his wife Katharine (Julia Stiles) who remains unaware of the death of her actual child. So, they raise young Damien as their own, ignorant of the supreme evil lurking beneath his innocent exterior.
Damien wants to use his new family to catapult his own being into the center of world affairs, but Thorn only fills the position of an inconsequential member of the political arena. Thus, a not-so-accidental tragedy expedites his path up the political ladder and he finds himself as the American Ambassador in England creating an inroad into the world of politics for young Damien, one that he will do anything in his power to hold onto.
From there the film retreads, albeit in a thoroughly entertaining manner, upon all the old faults of the previous. So much so that we anticipate every death before it happens. One aspect it does add to the mix is some truly creepy dream sequences involving the wife and her developing dread of Damien. During these moments, however, the film often resorts to the cheap jolts prevalent in lazy horror films, the kind where something quick and sudden occurs accompanied by a harsh, discordant noise that shocks the audience rather than eliciting real fear. Yet, as far as cheap thrills go, I’d be lying if I claimed to not be left shaken by these moments (let’s just say that every time I close my medicine cabinet at home now, I get this fleeting fear that something ghastly will materialize behind me in the mirror’s reflection). Does that make it an all-together successful film? Not really. But it does make it a worthwhile little fright that should provide you with a mildly entertaining evening. Considering the current state of horror films, what more could one ask for?
The Omen is playing in theaters across the United States now.