If you’re going to take the time to retool a stone cold classic of 70’s, dread inducing horror, you’d better have a damn good reason for doing so. David Cronenberg tackled The Fly in order to satisfy his urge for relationship based body horror while John Carpenter fashioned The Thing to play much closer to it’s source novel – but the producers of John Moore’s 2006 crack at The Omen sole reason seems to be that someone checked their calendar and saw that the date of 6/6/06 was rapidly approaching and had an idiotic brain-gasm.
Now, while I freely admit that releasing a movie about satan’s sprog on a date that also the number of the beast may be on William Castle levels of film promotion – the results where certainly hellish in more ways than one…
Ok, let’s go through this synopsis again, shall we…? Charismatic politician Robert Thorn is anxiously awaiting the birth of his child in Italy when he is delivered the devastating news that his and his wife, Katherine’s child is stillborn. However, a priest in attendance suggests that he instead secretly adopt a newborn whose mother had died during childbirth and unbeknownst to his spouse, the switch is made and everything seems hunky dory. Years later, Robert gets speedily promoted to British Ambassador due to a combination of due diligence, the fact that he’s the President’s godson and that his predecessor came down with a fatal case of accidental immolation. All this seems suspicious enough, but on little Damian’s birthday the weird occurrences shift into high gear beginning with the impressively public suicide of his nanny and the subsequent arrival of her replacement, the creepy Mrs Baylock. From then on it’s just one thing after another as Richard gets panicked warnings from a wild-eyed priest, Katherine starts having vivid nightmares and Damien has an inexplicable shit-fit during a trip to church and it soon becomes overwhelmingly apparent to everyone except Robert that his hollow-eyed nipper ain’t-quite-right.
You see, what we the audience are already wise to is that Damien is the son of the devil and anyone standing between him and his eventual rise to power is messily shoved off the board via bizarre and violent accidents that proves that the Prince Of Darkness may enjoy his work a little too much.
As Katherine grows ever more paranoid and Robert finally cottons on with agonizing slowness, it becomes obvious that their lives are in grave danger – but as the truth finally reveals itself to Thorn in a small town in Italy, can he really do what is necessary in order to save the world?
Directed by John Moore – the man who went on to put two bullets in the back of the head of the Die Hard franchise with his fifth installment – this new version of a 70’s classic is admittedly shot with a rich slickness and has some oddly comforting casting, but as a whole represents almost every single thing wrong with the horror remake fad that swept the genre during the millennium. Where the late, great Richard Donner crammed the original with a suffocating sense of steadily rising dread that only took a break during any one of the stunningly extra death scenes (Satan’s got quite the flair for theatrics), the remake instead opts for cheap jump scares and an over-stylised look that wrings any and all subtlety out of the premise like a giant, unholy mangle, but even then, The Omen ’06 still has it’s most baffling hand to play.
While not quite veering into Gus Van Sant territory with his infamous shot for shot remake of Psycho, Moore gives us a remake that’s so overwhelmingly similar to its predecessor it make you wonder why the hell anybody involved wanted to waste their time. A successful remake only works if it takes the basic concepts and comes at them from an entirely new angle that manages to enhance and update in equal measure; the filmmakers here, on the other hand, seem to think that their mission statement is to make a replacement version so snobby kids won’t have to lower themselves by watching a film made in the dark ages of 1976.
As truly offensive as I find this attitude, I do have to hold my hands up and admit that for all its flaws, The Omen 2.0 is cast suprisingly well and it’s choice of actors selected matches incredibly well with their 70’s counterparts. David Warner’s desperate photographer is now portrayed by David Thewlis sweaty photo journalist, Patrick Troughton’s bug-eyed priest is now played by Pete Postlewaite and, best of all, Mia Farrow seriously turns on the creeps after tagging in for Billie Whitelaw as the malevolent, rottweiler owning Mrs. Baylock – but the derivative script only succeeds in making everyone and everything feel like a photocopy printed on unnecessarily glossy paper. Never is this more evident than in the casting of Liev Schreiber, who seems like a decent replacement for Gregory Peck thanks to his height and stoic demeanor, but as the movie stubbornly refuses to let him do his own thing it leaves him and Julia Styles’ paranoid wife with nothing new to add.
The lack of subtlety in the film’s style also manages to dilute the exaggerated realism of the original, with rapidly edited nightmare sequences on hand to unhelpfully puff out the scare quota and melodramatic thunder storms underscoring ernest exposition in order to keep prodding you every now and then to obnoxiously ask “ArE yOu AfRaiD yEt?”. Composer Marco Beltrami just throws his hand in the air and doesn’t even attempt to match Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar winning score of black mass wailings simply because you suspect it wasn’t even worth it to try… It also seriously harms the film’s credibility when it comes to Damien himself; in ’76, Donner hired an angel faced little tot to blur the lines between good and evil, in ’06 Moore has the little, demonic fucker look as sinister as he can at all times by having him sport the dark eye circles of an insomniac hooked up to a black coffee drip – you might as well have placed the 666 birthmark on the terrible tyke’s fucking forehead instead of lodged somewhere under his Lloyd Christmas bowl cut…
While newcomers may actually dig this version of a world where a casual decapitation lurks just round the corner for anyone who stumbles on the secret of Damien’s jackal-based parentage (he might wanna stay off any ancestry websites just for good measure…), some iffy storytelling and a complete lack of genuine frights ultimately turn The Omen at best into a bit of a bad joke and at worse a pompous Final Destination rip-off that’s less bad as it is overwhelmingly pointless.
Not so much Omen then, as “Oh man..” with a nicely timed face palm to go with it.