'The Omen' remake is nothing new
All remakes are needless, but this update of The Omen is especially so.
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Not only was there nothing wrong with the 1976 horror classic, in which the Antichrist wreaks havoc on Earth as an innocent-looking five-year-old boy, but the original stands as one of the most frightening movies. Ever.
It's so ingrained in our pop culture, all you have to do is say the name Damien and everyone instantly knows you're talking about a demonic child.
So why mess with it?
Thirty years later, the makers of The Omen barely have. They're exceedingly faithful to the original - too much, actually - including having Omen screenwriter David Seltzer return to tweak his own script.
It's not a shot-for-shot remake like Gus Van Sant's pointless Psycho from 1998, but it's close. The structure, characters, setting, events, giant chunks of dialogue - all the same. One can only assume the intention was to appease the purists, but in doing so, director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) has breathed no new life into the material.
Tiny changes here and there inevitably modernize the film. It takes place in the modern day, so the characters have cellphones.
When Julia Stiles - filling in for Lee Remick as Damien's unsuspecting mother - begins to think there's something wrong with her child, she immediately goes into therapy.
And Liev Schreiber - standing in for Gregory Peck as the father who surreptitiously brings the demon spawn into their lives - cries way more than Peck ever would have dreamed. Peck's Robert Thorn choked up a little when he learned his wife had died, but mostly he held it together; here, as troubles mount, Schreiber is wiping away tears half the time. It's the sensitive-man remake of The Omen.
But in the most feeble effort at modernizing the material, this Omen vaguely attempts to be politically relevant. A montage of photographs at the start suggests that the devil is everywhere, all the time - on Sept. 11, at Abu Ghraib, etc. - and we just don't know it. The visit to an ancient biblical city toward the end of the film features flashes of flags, both Israeli and Palestinian. Such references feel tossed in.
More importantly, though, it isn't even scary. It's so similar to the original that we already know what's coming. And because it adheres so closely, it only serves as a reminder of the superiority of Richard Donner's original.
Robert, an ambassador in Rome, agrees to take a newborn whose mother has died during childbirth because his own newborn is dead, unbeknownst to wife Kate. The ends justify the means, he tells himself, and besides, Kate has taken to the boy instantly.
Flash forward five years as Robert moves his family to London. Soon, the nanny hangs herself in front of dozens of shocked guests at Damien's birthday party (and even says the same thing beforehand as the nanny in the original). A creepy priest (Pete Postlethwaite) stalks Robert with warnings that the boy is the devil's son and talk of Armageddon. A photographer (David Thewlis) notices eerie shadows in a series of pictures that end up being prescient.
And from there you know the rest of the story: death, destruction, mayhem, all of which Damien delivers with a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face. (No offence to young Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick in his first film role, but the original Damien, Harvey Stephens, accomplished more with less to say.)
Having said all that, there are some solid performances here. Schreiber is as versatile and esteemed an actor as you could wish for, and he certainly carries himself with enough gravitas for the role. Stiles, meanwhile, always exudes a maturity beyond her years but looks too young here; the 13-year age difference between her and Schreiber feels more like a chasm.
Thank heaven for Mia Farrow - the Rosemary's Baby star returning to supernatural territory - as the satanic disciple sent to protect Damien by posing as a replacement nanny. This is a rare instance of the new Omen improving on the old one. Instead of oozing menace and doom from the second she appears on screen, as her predecessor did, Farrow is all fair-haired sweetness and light, with that girlish voice and angelic presence.
It's the scariest part of the whole movie.
Two stars out of four.
*By Christy Lemire, Associated Press
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