The Omen

Cast:
Liev Schreiber as Robert Thorn
Julia Stiles as Katherine Thorn
Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien Thorn
Mia Farrow as Mrs. Baylock
David Thewlis as Keith Jennings
Pete Postlethwait as Father Brennan
Michael Gambon as Carl Bugenhagen
Bohumil Svarc as Pope
Giovanni Lombardo Radice as Father Spiletto
Amy Huck as Nanny

Directed by John Moore

Summary:
If you’re a fan of the original movie, there won’t be too many surprises in this faithful remake, but Moore has done a commendable job updating it for the 21st Century with the type of scares most will expect and some intelligent discourse on the world that they won’t.

Story:
A young couple (Liev Shreiber, Julia Stiles) are plagued by mishaps and misfortune when a priest tells them that their son Damien is the spawn of the anti-Christ.

Analysis:
Who knows where horror would be right now if it weren’t for the original 1976 horror movie “The Omen,” directed by Richard Donner. Besides originating the “creepy kid” horror genre, which survived the decades to spawn movies like “Hide and Seek,” “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” it was also responsible for the germ of an idea that would be expanded into the “Final Destination” movies, from the “accidental” deaths to having them precipitated in pictures taken of the victims.

With that in mind, it’s hard not to be skeptical of the original movie being remade, especially since John Moore’s last remake of “Flight of the Phoenix” was a bit of dog. Remake issues aside, there’s something to be said about how Moore has taken what was so good about the original movie—a powerful story filled with strong actors and memorable deaths—and turned it into something that touches upon the current religious and political climate in the country.

But first, the movie kicks off with an original eight-minute prologue that sets up the story with the Vatican learning of signs that the Anti-Christ is returning. At the same time, Katherine Thorn (Julia Stiles), the wife of a U.S. diplomat played by Liev Schreiber has lost her baby, but her loving husband makes a deal to get a “replacement” without telling her. This new material also explains how Thorn became the Ambassador to England after a freak accident kills his superior. While it’s interesting set-up for the story we already know, it doesn’t seem that necessary, because in some ways, it takes away from the shock of discovering Damien’s origins later in the movie.

From that point on, Moore is reproducing the original movie almost verbatim starting with Damien’s nanny killing herself on his sixth birthday. When a panicked priest shows up to warn Thorn about the prophecies and his son’s part in them, he’s immediately discarded as a crank. After a few more incidents, including the priest’s gory death, Thorn starts taking things more seriously and begins a quest with a tabloid photographer named Jennings to find out the true origins of his adopted son.

Of course, if you’ve seen the original movie, a lot of this will feel like you’ve seen it before, because you have, and some parts, like the zoo and church sequences, aren’t handled nearly as dramatically or effectively. The movie does get better as it goes along, hitting its stride around the midway point as it starts to find its own voice and its strengths, which come from taking advantage of how the world has changed in the thirty years since the first movie. The movie is certainly a bit more overt with its political and religious undercurrents. When Thorn and Jennings travel to Israel, it looks a lot more like we’ve seen on television and in movies with armed soldiers and checkpoints. Of course, 21st Century Damien rides a Razor scooter instead of a tricycle…evil!

Fortunately, the kills and scares, the main reason to see the movie, are all well done with a few clever twists on the deaths that might shock even those who know the original movie by heart. Even as you’re expecting something or someone to jump out at you, the movie puts you on edge not knowing how Moore will handle it, and in that sense, he’s able to get away from this being a frame-by-frame reproduction. Then again, it also means borrowing from places like “Final Destination,” which seems a bit backwards.

In between the deaths, the movie’s a bit slow with a lot of talking about what Damien is or isn’t, and the only reason these scenes aren’t completely dull is because of the quality of the writing and acting. Sadly, Julia Stiles is the weakest link of the cast, being completely unbelievable as the mother of a six-year old boy, while the new Damien, played by newcomer Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, isn’t nearly as creepy as the original and though he has the look down, he’s just not as menacing when it comes down to it. Likewise, Damien’s original parents, played by the older Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, certainly had more screen presence than Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles, so it’s up to their supporting cast to keep things interesting.

Mia Farrow steals the movie as the nanny Mrs. Baylock, who shows up to protect Damien, but she plays it very differently than the original actress acting super-sweet and nice, which just makes her conflict with Damien’s mother even more jarring. The rest of the supporting cast brings a lot to their scenes with David Thewlis bringing more personality to the unfortunate paparazzi photographer Jennings in his scenes with Schreiber. Pete Postlethwait, who plays Father Brennan, and Michael Gambon as the anthropologist Bugenhagen, are both known for stealing scenes, and they do it here, too, as they make more out of their characters than they were in the original movie.

Despite the issues people may have about whether a remake of “The Omen” is necessary, Moore does a masterful job combining striking visuals and haunting music to create a well-crafted thriller. He’s also found a way to make the story more relevant and entertaining to modern audiences, which ultimately is what helps make it one of the better recent remakes.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re adverse to remakes, you probably won’t be able to go into this one with the right head, especially if you’re in the “why remake this?” camp. If you’re a bit more open-minded, you’ll be impressed with the casting and how this supernatural thriller is everything “Da Vinci Code” tries to be, but fails. Of course, having lots of scares and gory deaths amidst the religious underpinnings makes it a lot more fun as well.

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