Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Omen (2006)

Title: The Omen (2006)
Dir: John Moore
Rating: **1/2 out of 5 stars

For The Diamondback....

Remakes are a sensitive issue to horror movie fans. The very mention of last year’s The Fog remake is enough to make a horror buff’s eye twitch. And lately, the movie industry has done nothing but churn out one ridiculous remake after another. The trend reached an all-time low when the Vincent Price classic, House of Wax, returned to the big screen starring the hotel heiress from Hell.

Once in a while, a remake does exceed these expectations. John Moore’s The Omen, a retelling of Richard Donner’s 1976 classic of the same name, somewhat rises above the steaming piles of recycled celluloid rolling off the Hollywood conveyer belt lately. Despite a mediocre cast and cheesy plot twists, the film entertains.

When American diplomat Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber, The Manchurian Candidate) learns that his wife Katharine (Julia Stiles, Bourne Supremacy) has suffered another failed childbirth, he is crushed but must break the news to her. So when a mysterious hospital priest offers him another baby - its mother having died the exact hour as his own son – Robert secretly adopts the child and spares his wife the painful news.

Years go by, and the couple raises the child – now called Damien – while only Robert knows the truth. One day, strange things begin to occur around young Damien, including black dogs lingering around the house and a series of gruesome deaths. Katharine becomes increasingly nervous around the boy until she finally becomes convinced that he wants to kill her. And her hunch is pretty accurate.

Only after Damien’s behavior is no longer deniable, Robert begins to investigate. He teams up with a photographer named Keith (David Thewlis, Professor Lupin of the Harry Potter series) and together they uncover some dark secrets about the Church, a 666 birthmark, and Damien’s true mother. All signs begin to point to the notion that young Damien is the devil incarnate.

The Omen packs some truly chilling moments, the best of which involves the Thorn family nanny under the possession of Damien. The string of marked deaths thereafter unfortunately begins to resemble Final Destination, but still manages to deliver some brutally enjoyable death scenes. Just be prepared to overlook the cheesy special FX. If only filmmakers would realize that horror and CGI do not mix.

After the loss of the first nanny, the Thorns hire a kindly old lady named Mrs. Baylock, portrayed by Mia Farrow of the other antichrist classic, Rosemary’s Baby. Hearing her character say things like, “Caring for children is the joy of my life” should endlessly amuse horror fans. Farrow’s creepy performance absolutely steals the film. You may find yourself laughing at her, but if you think that’s unintentional, you are mistaken.

Schreiber and Stiles are okay. Thewlis is better. In the role of Damien, newcomer Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick is sufficient, but unfortunately misused. Even though he makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich look creepy, Damien is not nearly as scary as he should be. The actor is not so much to blame as the script, which fails to place enough emphasis on its true star.

The Omen’s director John Moore made a surprising turn with this film. His previous efforts, including Behind Enemy Lines, were just nauseating; however, his dark visual style in this film stands out and actually benefits the movie. From creepy snow-covered landscape to ominous cathedrals, the visual style is right-on. Even the Thorns’ mansion is subtly reminiscent of The Shining, which subconsciously helps to build the terror.

One very irritating aspect of the film is the forced religious explanations. They are way too convenient, and thus unbelievable, especially when the film ties in politics. The Biblical aspects of the story are what make it so creepy, but this remake tries a little too hard to modernize, including the notion that 9/11 and the 2004 tsunami disaster are signs of the coming apocalypse. Watching these events onscreen is not bothersome, but the absurdity of their role in the story is.

Furthermore, the overabundance of 666 is a tad cheesy. The marketing department is not as clever as they think, releasing the film on June 6, 2006. It is not exactly a novel concept. But the presence of the number in the film – on clocks, on corpses, in dates – becomes a little overbearing.

That aside, the film delivers enough thrills and chills to satisfy most moviegoers. Fans of the original may despise this one because, after all, it is a remake. No movie was ever better the second time, but for the modern generation, most of whom could never sit through anything that airs on Turner Classic Movies, this remake is fairly well-made. Remakes in general are unnecessary evils, but if we must co-exist with them, The Omen isn’t that bad.