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THE OMEN (R) (2006)

20th Century Fox

Official Site

Director: John Moore

Producers: John Moore, Glenn Williamson

Written by: David Seltzer

Cast: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Mia Farrow, David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Gambon


John Moore. John Moore? Sounds almost like a made-up name, but when I looked it up, it turns out Moore also directed Behind Enemy Lines and Flight Of The Phoenix, neither of which I saw. This latest work is not the one that will make his name. The Omen is not quite a shot-for-shot do-over a la Psycho, but it’s so unfortunately close as to highlight its inferiority to the 1976 movie. A few things have been updated: They get overly cute with the opening credits and Moore has rung some inventively disgusting changes on the grisly deaths meted out. (I covered my eyes, but then peeked anyway.) Still, it’s a pale imitation indeed. I’ll have to re-watch, but this version seems to telegraph a lot more of its punches.

The Omen, for you late arrivals, is the tale of an American ambassador abroad, his strikingly lovely wife, and a substitution at birth that leads to unimagined horrors. When Kate (Stiles here; originally played by Lee Remick) goes into labor, her baby dies at birth. A kindly (?) priest persuades her husband to pretend that a babe born that very hour, whose mother has died in childbirth, is theirs. Hello! Don’t eat at a place called Mom’s; don’t play poker with a guy named Doc. I’m just sayin’… But Robert Thorn (Schreiber/Peck), unversed in common lore, does just that, deceiving the little woman and placing the robustly healthy infant into her loving arms. The next few years pass in a blur of parental pride and joy, until the dark lord stirs and begins to prepare his son’s kingdom. Because this substituted kid, Damian (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), is truly the devil’s own. There are signs and there are portents, mummy begins to smell a rat, and eventually even rational daddy, after a road-trip with an enterprising photographer (Thewlis) who’s the best investigative journalist this side of Nellie Bly, must face the fact that junior is hell-spawned and must be dispatched.

It’s not a bad little premise. Could you kill your kid, would you kill your kid? God called on Abraham to do it, and Abe sharpened his knives. What if you knew little Timmy was the Anti-Christ? Could you do it then?

It’s not a bad premise at all, but it all goes flop here. For one thing, what this movie needs to do is make you feel helpless. Instead, it pelts you with so many cheap shots, dream scares, and boos, that you’d think the filmmakers’ aim was simply to cause people to soil the theater’s seats. This is the sort of movie where you get lots of rain and lightning to build mood cheaply, instead of real, creeping menace. But that’s nothing compared to the biggest deficit: casting. Much of the power of the original came from the gravitas—and he is the first synonym of that word—of Gregory Peck, the screen prototype of the kind, decent, intelligent man. If Gregory Peck believes this Anti-Christ shit, you better watch your ass and grab your socks. Liev who?

You can’t go home again. I went hoping for a delicious scare, and I’m the target market for this sort of thing, being highly susceptible to religious horror, but no. Casting was what sold the original. But Liev Schreiber, on a Hardy Boys adventure with David Thewlis? Hell no.

Well there are a few good moments, and Mia Farrow, who is the best thing about this movie, has most of them. She portrays the character as a relatively normal nanny, an improvement on the original Mrs. Baylock, a servant so obviously evil that you wondered who on earth would have hired her. That makes it even more chilling when Farrow imbues her moments alone with Damian with unmistakable sexual overtones. Then they have to go and ruin it by making her go all homicidal maniac…

The other performances, well… The kid simply wasn’t up to the task. All he had to do really, is be a kid. Instead, he glowers. Or is he constipated? Schreiber can be fun to watch but he’s not on his best game here. As a glaring example, he gives a poetic reading that is wildly out of place. He recites the priest’s poem of doom with the cadences of a thespian, instead of the frantic recollection of a distraught husband and father.

There were some interesting cultural notes. The kid who played Damian in the original is all grown up and has a bit part as a tabloid reporter in this one. And huh. Will ya look at that? Unlike, say, the local constabulary in my fair city, the British cops actually say STOP a second or two before they shoot.

Don’t even bother with this. Rent the original. Or better yet, celebrate National Day of Slayer.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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