The Final Conflict

The Final ConflictSynopsis: Satan’s Son Is All Grown Up. And He’s Not Playing Around Anymore.

Damien Thorn (Sam Neill) has helped rescue the world from a recession, appearing to be a benign corporate benefactor. When he then becomes U.S. Ambassador to England, Damien fulfills a terrifying biblical prophecy. He also faces his own potential demise as an astronomical event brings about the second coming of Christ. Determined to thwart his holy arch-nemesis, as well as a group of priests intent on killing him, Damien begins his most destructive rampage yet. This story of a modern day Armageddon will keep you riveted until its shocking end!

***********************************************************************

The Final Conflict 6.75

eyelights: Sam Neil. the core concept.
eyesores: the development. the easy dispatching of the monks. the anticlimactic ending.

“Oh my Father, Lord of Silence, Supreme God of Desolation, though mankind reviles yet aches to embrace, strengthen my purpose to save the world from a second ordeal of Jesus Christ and his grubby mundane creed. Show man instead the raptures of Thy kingdom. Infuse in him the grandeur of melancholy, the divinity of loneliness, the purity of evil, the paradise of pain.” – Damien Thorne

After the surprisingly chilling first entry and the utterly engrossing second one, there is no way that ‘The Final Conflict’, the closing chapter in the ‘Omen’ trilogy could have lived up to expectations. One can wish, one can dream, but topping its predecessors would have required masterstrokes of unprecedented genius – it would have had to be larger in scale, broader in scope, more intense, more clever… and scarier.

It’s a tall order to start with, given how high the bar at been set already, but ‘The Final Conflict’ somehow not only fails at its valiant attempts to do exactly that, it also stumbles on enough levels that it falls rather short of its intended goal. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s actually weaker than most half-decent horror films. Having said this, it’s quite possible that I’m biased, given how much of a letdown this was for me.

Let’s face it: by the time that I first saw this movie, I had already seen the first two a few times each. I loved pretty much everything about this series. So when I discovered that there was a third one, and that it followed up Damien’s story into adulthood (with Sam Neil as Damien, no less!), I was extremely eager to see it. When I could finally get my hands on it, when the first Omen DVD boxed set was released, I basically manically threw myself on it.

So it’s no wonder that I wasn’t thrilled with it, when you think about it. Except that I’ve since seen it a few times and, even though my expectations are now tapered, it never fails to disappoint me. There’s just something lacking on all levels; it’s as though the filmmakers brought their C game for this one, instead of going all out for this last installment. It’s very much like watching a stellar sports team deflate during the finals.

And it’s not as though the recipe wasn’t any good, either (in fact, it’s an especially tantalizing one): it’s just that some of the ingredients are of poor quality and the cook lacks the experience to make it work. A real shame, too, because this third entry showed such promise…

‘The Final Conflict’ takes us a couple of decades beyond ‘Damien: Omen II’. Damien, now in his early ’30s, has been head of Thorn Industries for many years and is consolidating his grasp on power through an Ambassadorship to Great Britain. In public, he is a charming, generous, socially-conscious, worldly man. In private, he’s slowing setting in place the pieces that will bring about humanity’s downfall and ensure his domination.

He’s extremely well-connected: he’s friends with and has some influence over the President of the United States, amongst other important players, and Thorn Industries is well-positioned as a global powerhouse with interests everywhere. He’s also well-surrounded: his disciples are near him at all times and they’ve created an international network willing to do his bidding. Damien has contacts just about everywhere, and is able to shape and shake world events.

Unexpectedly, this is a dangerous time for him: the Second Coming of Christ is soon upon the world, and when that child is born, Damien’s powers will gradually diminish. Furthermore, the Sacred Daggers of Meggido are still in existence, and have been smuggled out of the country and into the hands of the monks who took care of Father Spiletto in the first movie; they have been watching Damien’s power grow and now, armed with the daggers, are ready to act.

‘The Final Conflict’ should work. It has all the elements necessary for suspense: the risk of Damien succeeding, his cold-blooded schemes to achieve his end, the possibility that the monks might fail in their attempts to rid the world of Damien, the chance that Christ will be murdered by Damien (who is having him hunted down to prevent his power from being usurped). So many pieces are in place keep us on the edge of our seats… and yet it somehow doesn’t.

The problem certainly isn’t with Sam Neil’s incarnation of Damien. While he’s not in top form, he’s nonetheless an exceptional choice for the part of the manipulative, intelligent, brooding and charming Damien; one moment he’s disarming, and the next he’s chilling. Brrr. Except that he doesn’t deliver all of his lines quite the way that he should have: sometimes he overdoes it, in particular when he’s doing speeches (ex: the congregation of the Disciples of the Watch).

I suspect that a stronger director might have been able to pull a more powerful performance out of Neil, who certainly has the ability and demonstrates it from time to time during the picture. Alas, this was Graham Baker’s first picture, and he wasn’t able to muster it. Neil shines in some of the more subtle moments, but when it’s time to dial it up, he tends to overdo it slightly, overemphasizing his lines and posturing. That’s too bad.

The thing is that this isn’t limited to just Neil. many of the other actors have a difficult time reeling it in, especially Rossano Brazzi as Father DeCarlo (whose native language is not English, so his performance may have been affected by a poor understanding of the differences in mannerisms between the two languages. Nothing a decent director couldn’t have fixed). Too bad that Richard Donner wasn’t able to be there due to legal troubles.

So, what works in ‘The Final Conflict’?

  • The picture starts off famously with the death of the current U.S. Ambassador to Britain. The death, which is manufactured by the forces of evil, is eerie, dramatic and grisly; it’s utterly unforgettable. That little twitch at the end gave it finality and reality at once. It’s scary to think that one might lose complete control of one’s self that way – that forces beyond your control could manipulate you like this. Even when as protected as an Ambassador is. It’s a chilling thought.
  • The negotiations between Damien and the President of the United States work really well because it feels like a conversation between peers, with Damien dangling incentives to get what he wants. It was a manipulation that was entirely credible as is, but one can also suppose that Damien likely used some of his power to grease the wheels slightly. This back and forth between the two men was very satisfying to watch.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

  • The first attempt on Damien’s life was successful in its failure. The monk was clearly an amateur and didn’t think things through – he’s not a killer, after all. So his attempt is pretty pathetic. But what works is just how epically he failed, strung up, swinging from the rafters, wrapped up in plastic and ablaze. It was such an astonishingly nasty death when one considers it from the victim’s perspective (tied up, unable to breathe, on fire, with plastic melting over you) that is stuns me every time I see it. Sure, it could have been done better. But it still works.
  • The first moment when Damien goes to his prayer room is absolutely unforgettable. His words sound a bit artificial, like a speech, not a prayer, but the ideas he spews forth are terrifically creepy. And that bastardized crucifix? Who thought of that? Total madness! The scene works because it’s almost all dark; the room is empty aside from the giant crucifix, so it feels desolate, sinister, cold. Awesome.
  • The congregation of the Disciples of the Watch was an amazing idea, but the speech could have been honed a bit better. I loved the notion that he would have amassed all these followers over the years – and from all regions, walks of life, ages, and so forth. It adds to the scary notion that they’re all around you; everywhere you go his disciples are watching. Brrr. And that he would have a secret meeting with them, in an isolated, darkened rocky amphitheatre adds to the effect.
  • The string of infanticides that Damien demands in order to weed out and kill the newly reborn Nazarene were an abominable notion, but perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the character and story. It was an excellent plot point because it showed us just how much power Damien had and how ruthless he was that he could make this happen. F-ed up.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

  • Damien’s lovemaking with his love interest, Kate Reynolds, was brutal. It was absolutely dreadful to know that he was about to harm her. Thankfully, the director only showed us his abrupt aggressiveness, shocking us in the moment – and the next thing we saw was Kate laid waste, passed out on the bed, covered in all sorts of marks. It’s not a long scene, but it’s jarring enough that you can’t forget its violence.
  • They finally made some sort of sense of that scene in ‘The Omen’ when Damien disappears while on a walk with his parents. It was otherwise complete baffling, but here they explain that Damien was conferring with Satan, in the form a large fish which he called Old Nick. It sounds stupid, but it more-or-less makes sense in the context of this picture. And it finally at least explains the scene, weird as it may sound.
  • The relationship between Damien and Kate’s son is disquieting for a couple of reasons. Again, it suggest that his hold on people is such that anyone in one’s midst could be working for him. Creepy. Secondly, he’s far too affectionate with the boy, whom he barely knows, and the boy is utterly devoted to him. This could suggest a more disturbing relationship between them – which would also be entirely in keeping with a creature so evil that he breaks all societal rules and norms.

So, what doesn’t work in ‘The Final Conflict’?

  • Shouldn’t the monks be using all seven daggers of Meggido, not just one? In the first film it is clearly stated that the first dagger extinguishes physical life, but must be planted in the center of what would ultimately be a cross, using the other daggers. Thus, one dagger alone couldn’t possibly stop Damien. But, perhaps that was the point: perhaps the filmmakers intended for the monks to misunderstand its use, and ultimately fail even as they succeed in killing him.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

  • The way that they killed off three monks in one go was all too easy, stripping the scene and picture of power. I can buy that Damien could have two of them see him instead of their third co-conspirator and, thus, murder him by mistake. But that they would then be frightened enough to hide in a catacomb, which would conveniently lock behind them was a bit farcical. And that they would never be rescued is hard to believe: how long would it be before someone would hear their pleas in the distance or find them while wandering through the ruins?
  • The next attempt on Damien’s life seemed like a smart move, in that the monks worked together to corner Damien during a fox hunt. The first problem is that the monks couldn’t have trapped Damien on that bridge because they wouldn’t have known in advance where the fox would go. At best, one of them could have followed Damien, but that’s it. And where was the fox going anyway? What was this hole it hid in, in the base of a bridge? The second problem is that the way they died was super easy, pathetic even: the first monk gets thrown off a horse he shouldn’t have been riding (he couldn’t stab Damien whilst astride, so he would have had to get off his mount. So why didn’t he?) and the next gets attacked by dogs (he couldn’t even muster the strength to leap over his vehicle, which was blocking his way). This is a terrible scene that tries to be clever, but trips all over itself.
  • It’s hard to imagine how all these so-called disciples could make it to the congregation with Damien in so short a time – after all, Damien himself had to take a chopper to get there. I mean, there were even kids there… how did they travel, exactly? And, although it was cool to know that there people from all ages and walks of life, what are the odds that these people would be there in their uniforms (i.e. the nurse or the Boy Scouts)? Surely they would have changed first! This was clearly done for our benefit.
  • Why would Damien’s press secretary turn on him so easily? To be Damien’s second-in-command, he would have had to be extremely devoted and dependable – so I doubt that he would waver as he did, let alone betray his master. This is not Judas that we’re talking about: Jesus knew he would be betrayed and let it happen, whereas Damien never would let it happen, and he’s powerful enough to know that his closest advisor is weak or hiding things from him. No, as his right-hand man, he would no doubt, like Moses, give up everything for his God.
  • The ending was extremely underwhelming. It should have been epic, being a duel between Christ and Antichrist. We should have been awe-struck, in utter wonderment over this moment. Alas, it was just Damien going to a ruined old Church and getting stabbed… twice. By the same dagger. WTF. Super lame. After three movies, all this build-up, all of Damien’s accumulated power (earthly and unearthly), he just gets stabbed and dies? Why not just have him trip and brain himself on a rock, while you’re at it? Or die in a car crash? Or drown in his bathtub? Or get bitten by a rabid squirrel? If you’re gonna be anticlimactic, you might as well go all the way, no?

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

  • The relationship between Damien and Kate was a total mystery. What was the attraction? It mustn’t have been just the sex because, as such a powerful man, he could probably have anyone he wanted (Just have a bunga bunga party, Damien!). So why her? This is not explained in any way whatsoever. And although he must have had some sort of hold on her, why would she subject herself to his abuse the way that she does? Although some people are into s&m, it looked like he really brutalized her – beyond what I’d imagine to be acceptable by most. To me, the relationship is simply untenable. And unbelievable.
  • Furthermore, after two outstanding scores, one of which netted him an Academy Award, Jerry Goldsmith provided a dramatic score that lacked the hooks prominent in the rest of the series. It’s an excellent score by any standard, one which has a grandeur that should take it to the stratosphere, but something is seriously lacking. Between the eerieness of the first and the creepiness of the second, this one comes off as far too beatific for its own good.

Frankly, it’s unfathomable to me that ‘The Final Conflict’ is as weak as it is after being set-up so marvelously by the first two. Andrew Birkin, who wrote the screenplay, even went on to write such superb films as ‘The Name of the Rose’ and ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer‘. Mind you, those are based on acclaimed novels, so perhaps he’s better-suited at adapting material instead of penning his own, as was the case here.

But it’s clearly not his cross to bear: the faults run deeper than just one person could be blamed for. ‘The Final Conflict’ is a picture that’s disquieting enough but doesn’t actually deliver on its many promises. It is filled with terrific ideas, it has a good cast, and it has a rich backstory – all of which I simply adore. But it simply doesn’t coalesce into the masterpiece series closer that it should have been.

The filmmakers were set to take the crown for best horror trilogy ever, but they let it slip from their fingers. In so doing, they let down audiences, but most certainly, they didn’t do their poster child justice: even if Damien failed, as rightly he should, after having thwarted all efforts to stop him thus far, at the very least he should have had used up all of his resources to try to survive – not merely fade away with nothing more than a wimper.

“Disciples of the Watch; I stand before you; in the name of the one who was cast out from Heaven, but is alive in me. You, my disciples will truly inherit this Earth!”

‘The Final Conflict’ should have been grandiose, unforgettable. Unfortunately, it’s merely a prime example of what could have been… and was not.

Story: 7.5
Acting: 7.0
Production: 7.5

Chills: 4.0
Gore: 4.0
Violence: 4.0

Date of viewing: October 6, 2013

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