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  • 15
  • Horror, Thriller
  • 2006
  • 108 mins

The Omen

The Omen


Hell is raised all over again in John Moore's respectful remake of this fire-and-brimstone horror from the 1970s, this time starring Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber as the couple with the demon child


In 2006, a decade marked by 'tricky' Presidents, electoral corruption, unjust foreign engagements, oil crises, and Middle Eastern terrorism, not only did all the anxieties of the 1970s resurface, but also the horror films that reflected them; the slew of reimaginings ranging from Zak Snyder's Dawn Of The Dead to Andrew Douglas's The Amityville Horror, from Marcus Nispel's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Tobe Hooper's The Toolbox Murders, and from Rupert Wainwright's The Fog to Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes.

Certainly not the least of these is John Moore's The Omen, reverentially reprising all the key moments from Richard Donner's infernal potboiler from 1976, while bringing Armageddon right into the 21st century.

When his own baby dies shortly after its birth in a Catholic hospital in Rome, devastated American diplomat Robert Thorn (Schreiber) agrees to adopt an orphaned newborn boy in its place without telling his wife Kathryn (Stiles) about the swap. Five years later, Robert has risen to become the US Ambassador in London, but is plagued by troubles at home. There has been a bizarre suicide at the birthday party of his son Damien (Davey-Fitzpatrick), an eccentric priest (Postlethwaite) keeps warning him about the boy's unorthodox origins, and Kathryn is becoming increasingly unbalanced, despite the help of new nanny Mrs Baylock (Farrow).

After a string of freakish accidents, Robert finds himself racing first to Italy, and then to Israel, accompanied by spooked photojournalist Keith Jennings (Thewlis), in the hope of uncovering the truth about Damien, and not sure whether he can really believe that his changeling son is the Antichrist whose coming is predicted in the 'Book of Revelation'.

David Seltzer has not so much tampered as tinkered with his 1976 screenplay for The Omen. The Thorns may be a much younger couple this time round, there may be a new sequence suggesting that Robert's rapid promotion to Ambassador has diabolical underpinnings, and the odd detail may have been amplified, abridged, or monkeyed about with; but the overall story, and much of the dialogue, has been left intact, keeping this remake resolutely faithful to both the spirit and the letter of the original.

What has changed is the times in which it is set. Now woven into the film's background furniture is an assortment of mobile phones, computers, PlayStations, and guns with laser sights; while in a new Vatican-set prologue, the tell-tale signs of the coming Apocalypse include familiar images of the Twin Towers collapsing, the Columbia space shuttle exploding, New Orleans flooding, as well as atrocities committed both during and after the second Gulf War.

Even elements lifted wholesale from the original resonate differently in the present age. Robert's habit of visiting his sleeping son at night, and his insistence that "I bathe him, I know every inch of his body", seemed so innocent in 1976, but in our own paedophilia-obsessed times introduce an entirely new subtext of abuse to Damien's disturbed behaviour. The conflict portrayed in the film between the sacred and the secular reflects America's current 'culture wars' waged by the liberal left and the religious right. In the Bush era, many will have no trouble believing that a boy born to inherit the Presidency might in fact be the spawn of Satan, hellbent on expediting the end of the world.

Along with Mark Wahlberg, (Planet Of The Apes, The Truth About Charlie, The Italian Job) Liev Schreiber has built a reputation for taking on seminal roles in movie remakes, having stepped into Laurence Harvey's shoes for The Manchurian Candidate (2004), and now reviving the part that had brought Gregory Peck's career back from the dead in the 1970s; it is hardly a coincidence that both of Schreiber's remakes feature a son being groomed by sinister outsiders to take over the highest of political offices. Just as clever is the casting of Mia Farrow as Mrs Baylock. When Farrow says "caring for children has been the joy of my life", she does not need to ham up the menace the way that Billie Whitelaw did in the original film; for Farrow's own acting history, as the original mother of Satan in Rosemary's Baby (1968), does most of the work for her, allowing for a far more restrained, ambiguous performance.

In fact all the performances, apart from Gambon's over-the-top turn as archaeologist/expositor Bugenhagen, are more nuanced than in the original, and this new version also looks a whole lot better - but it will no doubt divide viewers into those who agree that it is high time that the original received so slick a makeover, and those who wonder whether there is much real point to a retooling of such devilish fidelity to its source.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Pete Postlethwaite, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Michael Gambon, Mia Farrow, Julia Stiles, Liev Schreiber, David Thewlis
  • Director: John Moore
  • Screen Writer: David Seltzer
  • Producer: Glenn Williamson, John Moore
  • Photographer: Jonathan Sela
  • Composer: Marco Beltrami, Jerry Goldsmith

In a nutshell

Impressive, if a little pointless.

by Anton Bitel

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