|The Omen (2006)
Starring: Lieb Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Mia Farrow, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon, Pete Postlethwaite
Director: Dan McDermott
ALSO! See where the 1976 original ranked on our list of the 15 best horror films.
It was tempting, after viewing this surprisingly good remake of Richard Donner’s 1976 horror classic “The Omen,” to begin this review with the phrase ‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ but then I thought about it, and it just didn’t seem to be the wise course of action. Still, it must be stressed that this movie had all the makings of being an amped up, slam-bang satanic action thriller, but director John Moore, who does not possess the most impressive résumé (“Flight of the Phoenix,” “Behind Enemy Lines”), shows remarkable restraint in terms of pacing, effects (there are only a handful of CGI moments), and use of sound. He lets the story do the talking, and he captures the suffocating nature of the protagonists’ dilemma to paralyzing effect.
The movie begins in Rome, where young diplomat Robert Thorne (Liev Schrieber) discovers that his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) has just lost her baby in childbirth. Father Spiletto, the attending priest, tells Robert of another woman in the hospital who died while giving birth to a healthy son, and Robert, not wanting to break the bad news to Katherine, agrees to take the abandoned son as his own. After an “accident” takes out Robert’s superior (hello, “Final Destination”) and catapults Robert to the job of US Ambassador of England, he and Katherine live a relatively normal life.
But as their son Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) approaches his sixth birthday, the Thornes witness a series of strange occurrences. Their nanny commits suicide at Damien’s birthday party. Her replacement, Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow, the mother of Rosemary’s Baby herself), takes in a rottweiler as a pet for Damien without asking the Thornes for permission. Damien all but ignores Katherine, who assumes at first that it is because of her failures as a mother. Soon, however, she starts to get wise, and Robert tries in vain to keep Damien under control and his wife in the dark while enlisting the help of a photographer (David Thewlis) who has discovered a disturbing pattern in the photographs of his subjects.
The most refreshing aspect of “The Omen” is its near-complete disregard for how modern-day horror movies are made. The (creepy) nightmare sequences are all shot in silence, with the imagery doing all the talking instead of an overblown, percussion-heavy audio track telling the audience when to be frightened. Even the death scenes are old-school from a CGI perspective; in fact, one gore-free scene will have audience members squirming. This is surely due to the savvy decision to bring back David Seltzer, screenwriter of the original “Omen,” to update his own story. If anyone knows what worked and what didn’t work in the original film, it’s Seltzer, and it sure as, um, hell doesn’t hurt that he came of age in an era where the story was the most important part of a film, and as a result the urge to make a splatterfest does not come naturally.
Newcomer Davey-Fitzpatrick has the coldest eyes you’ve ever seen, though to call what he does here acting would be a stretch. (He has five lines, tops.) Pete Postlethwaite has a nice turn as the priest who warns Robert of his son’s origins, but no one suffers more for their art here than Stiles, whose Katherine knows she’s up against something otherworldly and evil, yet cannot find the strength or courage to fight it, never mind convince anyone else that it exists. It brought to mind Charlize Theron’s performance as Keanu Reeves’ wife in “The Devil’s Advocate.” The hapless female pawn of evil: there’s good acting to be had in those parts.
I went into “The Omen” expecting very little, and walked out gobsmacked. Seldom is a supernatural horror movie so sly, and Moore filled this movie to the brim with quick jabs, hidden references and otherwise unsettling visuals that may not even register on a conscious level. For the fans of the “Final Destination” and “Saw” series, they may view this as a disappointment, since it’s less about the violence than the story. But if someone wants an ultraviolent satanic thriller, they can rent “Warlock.” This, on the other hand, is horror with a soul. Sleep tight.
A disappointingly slim offering from 20th Century Fox, especially given the fascinating subject matter. The featurette “Omenisms,” which begins with a disturbing story about the film to a pivotal scene being mysteriously destroyed, turns into a sterile, lengthy making-of bit that’s more about the mundane nature of making a movie than anything else. Indeed, director John Moore (who also provides an audio commentary along with his producer and editor) is not at all afraid to be a diva no matter who is filming him. But “Omenisms” holds nothing in terms of toothlessness to “Revelations 666,” which feels like it was made for Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Faith channel. The most unsettling extra is “The Abbey Road Sessions,” which shows composer Marco Beltrami’s creepy score being recorded in the most famous studio in the world.