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The Omen

The Spawn of Satan Returns in Another Unnecessary Remake

Remakes and sequels are as inevitable as the end times are to certain millennial sects. Combine the two ideas and the result is the remake of The Omen, the 1976 supernatural horror film that became a box office hit and, at least to some, a genre classic. Ironically, the original was thrown together to cash-in on The Exorcist's commercial success several years earlier. It worked, offering pre-millennial angst, suspense, and scares in equal doses (plus a zeitgeist-influenced downer ending). Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in the lead roles also added an aura of respectability to otherwise "B"-level material. But why a remake and why now? Profit motive, of course, explains a great deal, but so does the 6-6-06 release date.

The remake departs from the original in a few, mostly superficial ways. Instead of being the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, the more youthful Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) in the remake is a deputy ambassador to Italy. Robert's superior is moved from Italy to England, but before long, Thorn finds himself taking on the role of full ambassador. For his young wife, Katherine (Julia Stiles), the move and promotion portend a bright, happier future. Likewise for their five-year old son, Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). On the surface, Damien looks like any other five-year old born into privilege and wealth, well fed, cherubic, and well adjusted.

Damien, of course, is none other than the Anti-Christ, here to set Armageddon in motion. At childbirth, Damien was switched with Richard's dead son. Richard knew about the switch, but didn't tell Katherine. Five years later, Damien begins to exhibit odd, anti-social behavior. Damien acquires fiercely protective dogs as well as a doting governess, Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow), almost immediately after the very public demise of the first nanny. Katherine's affections for Damien begin to deteriorate, doubts about Damienís identity begin to surface, and relationships begin to fray.

Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite), an apostate priest, approaches Thorn warning him of impending doom. A freelance photographer, Keith Jennings (David Thewlis), discovers wispy, ethereal objects on several photographs he's taken of Father Brennan and the first nanny. Finally aware of Damienís true identity, Thorn is forced to act. Cue an urgent trip to the Middle East and a quick visit to Carl Bugenhagen (Michael Gambon), an archeologist working on a dig. Bugenhagen is in possession of much needed world-saving information (and an object or two).

The Omen may not be a shot-for-shot remake, but it's pretty close. All the major scenes, turning points, and set pieces are lifted straight from the original with only cosmetic changes. The original screenwriter, David Seltzer (Revelations, Prophecy) again receives solo credit for scripting The Omen, but he had little, if anything, to do with the remake. Director John Moore (Flight of the Phoenix, Behind Enemy Lines) adds the occasional visual flourish and jump scare (flash or subliminal cuts unlikely to scare the average moviegoer, let alone jaded horror fans) absent from the original. In a misguided attempt to add seriousness (where none is required), Moore slips in archival disaster footage during the pre-credit sequence. He later includes overemphatic music cues meant to increase tension or fear (they donít).

Performance wise, Liev Schreiber limits himself to the occasional furrowed brow and teary eyes. Julia Stiles is sadly miscast for a role more appropriate for an older, more experienced actress. Whenever Stiles wears a high-end suit or dress, she looks like a teenager playacting at being an adult. As for the supporting cast, David Thewlis seems to be the only grounded, note-perfect performer in the entire cast. Mia Farrow was probably added to the cast for her connection to another horror classic involving the Devilís progeny, Rosemary's Baby (however, she adds nothing of note here). Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Gambon overact every chance they get (several for Postlethwaite, one for Gambon). On the plus side, they do look like theyíre having a great time chewing scenery. As for Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien, let's be kind and just say he was badly miscast (either that or Moore canít direct children).

As for a sequel or sequels (the 1976 original spawned two progressively inferior sequels), letís hope not, but if the remake succeeds at the box office (a tricky proposition, since the only rationale for releasing a horror film off-cycle seems to be the 6-6-06 release date), expect to see Damien turning meaner and deadlier as he comes into his own. If that happens, hopefully the producers will scrap remaking Damien: Omen II (Damienís angst-ridden teenage years) and The Omen: Final Conflict (Damien busy making Armageddon happen but never getting there) and go with fresh (or fresher) ideas. Thatís probably too much to ask for, though.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars