Review: The Omen

Forced to adopt an enigmatic infant orphan in a time of need, Robert (Liev Schreiber) and Katherine Thorne (Julia Stiles) bring son Damien into their lives, hoping for the family they've always wanted. When Robert's job as an ambassador sends the couple to London, the now five-year-old Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) begins to show signs of trouble. Accosted by lunatic priests, controlling nannies (Mia Farrow), and a tabloid photographer (David Thewlis) who notices things aren't what they seem to be, Robert gradually discovers the wicked truth about Damien: he's the son of Satan and must be stopped.

This month's installment of remake horror cinema is "The Omen" (IMDb listing). Generally well regarded among genre enthusiasts, Richard Donner's 1976 film was a crackerjack horror blockbuster, tapping into the demon fever of the '70s, fueled by Jerry Goldsmith's unforgettable, Oscar-winning score. It was a distinct slice of pop culture fun. The only way I can think of to approach a remake would be to reassess what would make the idea of the antichrist so frightening in today's world.

20th Century Fox's plan? Just to make the same movie all over again.

While it doesn't quite reach Gus Van Sant's "Psycho" levels of duplication, John Moore's "Omen" is simply a glossy, overheated retread of Donner's film, updated only in film technology and spurting decapitations. Hurting matters directly is Moore, who has distinguished himself as one of the most shallow filmmakers working today, aggressively preferring polish to dramatic substance ("Behind Enemy Lines," and another bonehead remake, "Flight of the Phoenix").

Moore's directorial incompetence comes into play here right away. Working closely with the cinematographer, there is so much attention to the precise lighting and gothic sets in "Omen" that it starts to resemble a bad Nine Inch Nails music video. Moore never once concentrates on cautiously building the dread of Damien's influence, the menace of his foaming canine protectors, or the parental paranoia that made Donner's version hum so fantastically. Instead, Moore elects to go for infuriating boo scares to cheaply jolt the audience when the story goes limp, or simply steals Donner's iconic shots for his own.

Moore is even worse with his actors. Granted, he doesn't have the luxury Donner had in working with Gregory Peck, but Moore is satisfied to let his acting talent die awkwardly onscreen, adrift in a sea of stilted dialog and a lack of even fundamental characterization. It's bizarre enough to cast chemistry-free Stiles and Schreiber as a married couple (he looks and acts like her high school career counselor, not the love of her life), but setting them loose without much encouragement or guidance in this parade of demonic havoc elicits far more yawns than scares.

The botched direction of young Davey-Fitzpatrick is what stings the most about this needless remake. Here's Damien, the future Satan, just starting his reign of gloom, and Moore encourages the little actor to uproariously scowl as if a teamster was presenting a plate of steamed vegetables to him from behind the camera. Hardly a frightening reaction. The sterilization of Damien is indicative of all the problems that plague the remake and his importance is always placed second to Moore's aggressively ridiculous visual palette.

If I haven't hog piled on the director enough, one of the more sickeningly controversial moments of the film occurs right at the beginning. As the Catholic Church starts to put together the clues that satanic trouble is brewing all over, Moore uses footage of 9/11, Katrina, and the Tsunami as "examples" that something crazy is indeed going on. And here I thought I was going to sit down with a simple horror fantasy film. Moore's quest for apocalyptic authenticity is revolting, especially when placed in the same film where he expects the audience to swallow Mia Farrow as Damien's apple-cheeked, yet menacing nanny. Seriously, Mia Farrow? I guess Doris Day was busy.

I'm not sure who this bonehead remake is for. Fans of the original know better than to pay money to see a lesser filmmaker screw up slam dunk material. For those who might've missed the dated charms of Donner's earlier picture while riding along the cinematic trail, why subject yourself to this reinvented nonsense when the real deal is a mere rental away?

Filmfodder Grade: D

So every time a filmmaker uses a real life tragedy to make his/her movie seem more realistic, it's revolting? I thought it made the movie more interesting. Granted, I'm not the one who reviews movies for a living so I have no idea what I'm talking about. Meh, opinion is opinion. Personally, I enjoyed the movie, and that's enough for me.

-- Posted by: Zack at June 8, 2006 6:07 AM