More noise than signal

The Omen (2006)

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

The current trend of remaking films as though they were going out of fashion is a risible one, however it presents a fringe benefit for hard pressed scriveners. Two reviews for the effort of one! Awesome!

The Omen, in its original form, is older than I am and considerably better regarded. Naturally this demands it be remade, but is it wise to fiddle with what’s often called the seminal horror film of the seventies?

After his son dies moments after birth, soon-to-be American Ambassador to the Glorious Crown of the Eternal Empire of Eng-er-lund Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck Liev Schreiber) is offered an unusual deal by priests at the Catholic hospital. A woman has just died in childbirth leaving behind a son. Why not pretend that it’s your kid as it’ll save your wife, Katherine (Lee Remick Julia Stiles) some distress? Inexplicably, Thorn agrees, which turns out to be a bad call in hindsight. We recommend always checking babies for suspicious birthmarks before signing for them.

Decamping for London, things seem peachy until disturbing, barely explicable events start unfolding. A broken down old priest Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton Pete Postlethwaite) starts accosting Thorn, claiming that ‘his’ kid Damien (Harvey Stephens Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, who I’m guessing is Irish) is the Anti-Christ. Photographer Keith Jennings’ (David Warner David Thewlis) shots seem to be oddly prophetic, and there’s definitely something odd about this new nanny (Billie Whitelaw Mia Farrow).

I shan’t insult you by repeating the details; if you’ve even the most passing of interests in horror or even just films in general you’ll have seen the unholy trinity of this, The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead, and for my money The Omen trumps the others handily. Despite what Herr Doktor Mark Kermode tells us at every available opportunity The Exorcist has always been roughly as terrifying as an episode of Bananaman, and you can make up your own mind on Romero’s outing seeing as it’s freely and legally downloadable over at archive.org.

The Omen worked better than, well, every other horror film for two reasons; there was a director attached who knew what he was doing, Richard “Superman, Lethal Weapon, Scrooged, The Goonies, erm, let’s ignore Timeline” Donner and there was the involvement of Gregory Peck, who most certainly knew what he was doing. Dear readers, I’ve seen more than my fair share of rank awful horror flicks stuffed to the gunnels with fresh faced teen actors who couldn’t emote their way out of a wet paper bag. Swapped out in this revision is director John Moore, who perhaps shows the odd misplaced touch of arthouse symbolism with Schindler’s List-esque focus on the colour red early doors, but generally makes a good fist of things. Peck’s boots are filled by Liev Schreiber, who I certainly don’t dislike and is still head, shoulders, torso, legs, feet and a sizable pair of platform-soled shoes above the usual horror leads, but let’s face it, he’s no Gregory Peck.

You can’t really get higher up the Evil foodchain than the Devil Incarnate. To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, how more Evil can you be? The answer, of course, being none. None more evil. Compare this to, say, the upcoming Reeker where the resident scaremonger appears to be … a smell and you can see how The Omen gets a bit of a head start in the freak-out stakes. One of the very few identifiable ways in which this remake is worse than the original is the casting of the li’l hellraiser Damien. While the original version’s kiddywink was the a distilled drink of evil, the latest child looks more like a short drink of water. More anaemic than evil, it seems that Satan is in severe need of iron supplements. That this alone doesn’t kill the film stone dead is remarkable, and earns the cast and crew a hearty pat on the back.

There’s a design flaw inherent to horror films that stops any of them being classics, at least as far as this scrivener is concerned. The point of them, over and above being entertaining, is to scare us. I assume this is not a controversial viewpoint. While wise men tell us we have nothing to fear but fear itself, the rest of us idiots will content themselves with fearing the unknown. Films, however, in all but the rarest and most haunted of cases tend to remain the same on each viewing, thus becoming less unknown, and less fearful to our tiny monkey minds.

Familiarity, in this case, is very much the watchword. While this isn’t as pointless as, ooh, a frame for frame remake of Psycho, you’d be picking nits if you took issue with a description of this as a scene for scene remake. Sure, some of the deaths have been altered somewhat, and to the movie’s credit it even addresses the issue of someone of Schreiber’s slender years getting into so responsible a position as Ambassador in a believable (well, believable-ish) fashion. It has some degree of respect for its audience then. However, it also adds a couple of silly, cheap orchestra stab jump-o-bits. So, it hates its audience then. However, they are rather freaky images underneath the caterwauling, so it has some respect for its audience. And it manages to induce at least one genuine jump-event, which is one better than anything in a cinema this decade, despite the fact I knew exactly what was coming. So, it must be good, then. This, dear readers, is deductive logic, and it is irrefutable.

Sure, there’s a few parts that have never sat right and they’ve not really been patched up in this revision; Thorn seems to accept this abhorrent idea of replacing his son with remarkably little soulsearching because it’s convenient to the plot and the Metropolitan Police force now merely seem to inexplicably have armed-to-the-teeth SWAT teams on a zero-second response time in Morse’s London, again because it’s convenient to the plot. That aside the detective leg-work taken on in the middle third means that it will remain an interesting, if not deeply unsettling film to rewatch, a lesson Hideo Nakata would later take on board to great effect in his first Ring outing.

If you’re in the somewhat pointless task of comparing the casts, then you could argue about the merits of both for days without truly reaching a consents. The supporting cast, I’d say, is better in this new version, but it does miss the screen presence of Peck. Let’s call it a score draw and move swiftly onwards. With a cinema landscape at the moment absolutely littered with the corpses of rank awful teen oriented horror this is a shining beacon of light, or rather darkness, that remind us that this genre can work occasionally, even if it typically doesn’t.

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