Senior American diplomat Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is called to an emergency at a nearby hospital: his very pregnant wife, Kathryn (Julia Stiles), had a difficult delivery and according to hospital priest, Father Spiletto, the baby died at birth. Despondent over the loss and fearing the impact it will have on Kathryn, Robert accepts the priest’s offer to replace the dead child with another born the same night. Little does he know that this act of compassion will unleash Armageddon upon the earth in “The Omen.”
In 1976, director Richard Donner created quite a stir with scripter David Seltzer’s screenplay about the birth of the Anti-Christ on the earth. Now, 30 years later, helmer John Moore takes that same screenplay and faithfully recreates the original in a modern, yet old-fashioned, retelling of “The Omen.”
Movie icons Gregory Peck and Lee Remick played the surrogate parents to the spawn of Satan the first time around in a slick and scary tale of one man’s mission to stop evil from taking over the earth. Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles reprise the roles of Robert and Kathryn Thorn in a remake that is geared for a brand new audience that would eschew the ’76 film but will readily embrace the update.
As I said, the new “Omen” is a blow-by-blow reproduction of the earlier movie so, if you are familiar with the latter, you won’t get anything new from the remake. But, “The Omen” is a well-made supernatural thriller that moves along at a good and entertaining clip, from the shocking “Damien, it’s all for you!” nanny (Amy Huck) suicide to the deadly dispatch of Father Brennan (Pete Posthelwaite) and Robert’s realization that he is the step-father of Satan’s child.
Director Moore does a solid job with Seltzer’s original script and talented cast in making “The Omen” a fresh telling of the rise of ultimate evil on earth. Schreiber, lacking the baggage of fame that Gregory Peck brought to the original, is able to envelop himself in his character, Thorn, as the diplomat faces increasing evidence that his “son,” Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), is anything but an innocent little boy. Julia Stiles has the tough role as fragile Kathryn who is the first to realize that something is terribly wrong with her son.
The supporting cast is superb with Mia Farrow giving a kindly turn (though with a wicked undercurrent) as Damien’s newest nanny, Mrs.Baylock, and minion of the Devil. She is all sweetness as she protects her unholy ward, making her deadly part in the conquest of the world all the more chilling – the laughs from members of the audience over her antics had a distinctly nervous edge. Pete Postlethwaite gives a fine performance as the priest who is trying to right the wrongs he has committed in the service of Satan by convincing Thorn of Damien’s dangerous heritage. His demise is one of the slickest bits of F/X in the film. David Thewliss, as the paparazzi who joins Thorn in his mission, makes the original David Warner role his own. Michael Gambon is just okay in the small role as a priest who advises and arms Thorn with the weapons to kill the Anti-Christ.
Aside from the several special F/X sequences, “The Omen” is meat-and-potatoes storytelling that builds its tale of the Anti-Christ in an old-fashioned, unencumbered way. John Moore made a solid directing debut with his exciting “Behind Enemy Lines (2001)” and bellies up to the bar of his latest film with capable competence. He is joined by a team of behind the camera players that help make this remake seem fresh, even today.
Older audiences familiar with the 1976 version of “The Omen” will not get anything new with the remake. But, this new rendition is aimed at a new audience and provides solid entertainment on the big screen. I can see the film buffs, especially supernatural horror film buffs, watching both films back to back just to compare the two. Heck, I’d watch the first one again just to compare the two films. I give the new “Omen” a B-.Laura:
The President's Godson Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber, "The Manchurian Candidate") is on a happy trajectory as the U.S. Ambassador to Italy's right hand man and beloved husband of Katherine (Julia Stiles, "The Bourne Supremacy") when he is faced with a dire decision. Unbeknownst to her, his wife has lost their firstborn during a difficult labor. A priest, Father Spiletto (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, "Gangs of New York"), suggests a white lie - the substitution of another child born within the hour of that June 6th day - and so Robert offers his wife this unknown baby to her as their own, setting the stage for the fulfillment of "The Omen."
David seltzer ("Dragonfly") wrote the script for the original 1976 version of this post-Exorcist Satanic tale and gussies it up with some modern day indications of what was prophesied in the Book of Revelations - the Challenger disaster and 9/11 among them. But although Seltzer otherwise offers an almost note for note replay of his first pass, director John Moore ("Behind Enemy Lines," "The Flight of the Phoenix") has delivered a slight improvement, a film that is scarier and more unsettling the second time around.
The audience is clued in to something amiss well before the Thorns are when a Rube Goldbergesque accident fells the Italian ambassador just as he's about to assume a more prestigious post in London. The job falls to Robert and Katherine responds by acquiring a magnificent estate she feels is suited to their new position. When Damien turns five, an elaborate birthday party turns horrific when his nanny (Amy Huck, "From Hell," "EuroTrip") steps out onto the roof in view of all, proclaims 'It's all for you Damien!' and plunges several stories from a noose. Photographer Keith Jennings (David Thewlis, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban") captures everything and is at the Embassy the next day to photograph the priest, Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite, "The Constant Gardener," "Æon Flux"), who is escorted from the premises after speaking to the Ambassador. In the darkroom, Jennings begins to make a supernatural connection that dovetails with Brennan's predictions and begins to convince Thorn that his son may be the spawn of Satan.
The new "Omen" features art direction as subtle as a matador's cape, yet it is effective. The color red always surrounds those about to die in the Devil's quest for power and when Thorn is shocked to discover the mark of the beast, 666, on his son's scalp, one wonders why he's never really noticed the pattern on the boy's bedroom wallpaper. Katherine's psychological breakdown as she begins to believe her son is evil incarnate is supported by extremely creepy dreams and Stiles very effectively evokes the confusion, paranoia and terror of her situation, just as Schreiber, a terrific actor, conveys the gravity of his situation. The casting of a prior mom of Satan's son, Mia Farrow, as Mrs. Blaycock, the nanny whose references never get checked, was a masterstroke and Farrow is a hoot, all sweetness in public (the original's terrific Billie Whitelaw was obviously a bad guy from the get go), all shining fervor in privacy. Thewlis is a big plus as the photographer personally motivated to assist Thorn. The film's big weakness is young Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien - he's creepy enough as a cutaway, but too one note overall.
If the purpose of a remake is to bring an older film to a new audience, "The Omen" must be considered a success. It's real trick is to treat those who are familiar with the original to some new chills with a familiar story.
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