The Omen (remake)

Hell hath no fury like a horror fan forced to sit through dunderheaded remakes like this.

A misguided, unnecessary, and just plain stupid remake of the 1976 cult classic, the new “Omen” starts off by scrambling to justify its very existence and goes downhill from there. Through an unimaginative litany of recent world events meant to represent the fulfillment of a series of Biblical portents, we are told that the world is ripe for an Antichrist, and sure enough he arrives at a hospital in Rome, a bastard child whose mother dies in childbirth. As fate would have it, American Embassy mucky-muck Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) and his wife Katherine (Julie Stiles) have just lost their own baby at birth, and a priest at the hospital makes Robert an unusual proposition: they can pretend that the orphan is their child, and save Katherine the pain of losing their son. Robert agrees, and Damien becomes the luckiest orphaned son of Satan in Italian history.

In his new cushy role as beloved son of a soon-to-be-Ambassador (an “accident” or two quickly move Robert up in the ranks and ship the family off to London), Damien has little to do other than sit around and look bored. And for those of us who have seen the original film from which this remake deviates so amazingly little, we have scarcely more to do ourselves. Already the film seems to be trying very hard to convince us that it deserves even to exist, with little success – please, don’t show us a parade of actual tragedies (including the World Trade Center attacks) to justify the remaking of a horror movie, particularly when it’s “The Omen” and just happens to hit screens on 6/6/06. We’re willing to buy that the devil has been reborn to reclaim the earth, but less willing to accept that anything other than a clever marketing gimmick had anything to do with this thing hitting screens. Save the disaster footage for something with a little more class.

From here on out, the movie is a rote retelling of the original, almost to the point where it mimics Gus Van Sandt’s shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho”. Actually, that’s not true – while the “Psycho” remake at least had a sense of humor and the self-awareness of being little more than an experimental parlor trick, “Omen” actually takes itself seriously. In fact, that somber, weighty tone is what ultimately makes the film nearly unwatchable: rather than a playful, devilish tale of good being corrupted by an unspeakable (yet adorable) evil’s calculated rise to power, we’re forced to sit through a self-important, utterly flat drama with a few jarring, hyper-gory setpieces. The gleeful nastiness and chilly gothic tone of the original film are lost, and instead we’re stuck with an earnest yet unconvincing domestic drama about an outlandishly rich couple accidentally adopting the spawn of the devil. And that’s just ridiculous.

The performances, while admirable for their spirit, are completely misguided. Liev Schreiber has apparently been told that he’s doing “Henry V” here, not a horror movie about a demonic toddler – his performance is so tortured and bleak that it’s almost impossible to watch without laughing. Julia Stiles, on the other hand, is so unconvincing as either a mother or the wife of an Ambassador that she comes across as bitchy and awkward rather than troubled or suspicious. The only actor who seems to “get” the film is Mia Farrow, whose Mrs. Baylock breathes into the film the little life that it has – she’s delightfully wicked and arch, and understands that what’s being played out here is not straight drama, but a slightly off-kilter genre piece. I literally prayed for her character to appear in every scene. The little boy they found to play Damien, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, is also miscast and misused. He’s adorable and not the least bit threatening, and his blank stares are just that – blank. Nothing bubbles beneath the surface, as is essential for this character – take another look at Harvey Stephens’ performance in the original and see what I mean.

The setpieces themselves – the legendary nanny suicide, the priest being skewered, the photographer being decapitated, Katherine being toppled over the railing – are slick and graphic, but not very creative. They also seem to happen out of nowhere and leave very little chance for suspense – we go from overwrought drama to “Final Destination”-lite accident and back again with little or no affect on our heart rates. Some of the elements, while probably quite novel in 1976, are simply too overdone by this point to be interesting – the subplot about the photographs revealing the next victim, for example, has been done numerous times (most recently in “The Ring”) and now just feels like 10 wasted minutes. There are also a few random, visually incongruous dream sequences that are there only to give the composer the opportunity to grind on a violin for a few seconds in a vain attempt to scare us – apparently, Katherine’s unease at her son’s behavior has caused her to suffer from nightmares that she is trapped in an overlit Covergirl commercial with no hope of escape. Or something, I don’t know – and in the end, I really don’t care.

And can someone PLEASE issue a public memo to every working director that the use of the color red to convey danger is the most overdone, tired cliché in the universe? Ever since Spielberg spoke about removing red from “Jaws” until the Kitchener boy attack (to make the red seem redder, not to “mean” anything), uncreative filmmakers think that using red to “signify” (read: insult your audience’s intelligence) is the height of intellectual filmmaking. Please. In this case, it’s so heavy-handed that it’s laughable – the staggering number of red balloons that were used in the film is more frightening than the movie itself. This John Moore and M. Night Shyamalan need to go off and give each other massages or something.

In the end, “The Omen” is simply a bad movie to remake due to its cult status (not to mention the fact that it was a very well-made original), and the sad fact that these filmmakers have done nothing substantial to change the film other than to make it boring sinks any chance of it contributing much. Unduly somber, self-important, and clumsily executed, this “Omen” is best unseen and unheard. You have been warned.

 

Official Score