The Omen (2006)

The Omen (2006)Synopsis: In this chilling remake of The Omen – that is even more terrifying than the original – man’s darkest fears are manifested as an unspeakable terror is unleashed on the world! U.S. diplomat Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) substitutes an orphan for his own stillborn baby in order to spare his unknowing wife (Julia Stiles). But after a series of grotesque murders and dire warnings, the Thorns come to the horrifying realization that their child is the son of Satan!

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The Omen (2006) 4.0

eyelights: it cements the original’s effectiveness.
eyesores: its straight-to-video quality. the b-level cast. its unsubtle storytelling.

“This is for you, Damien! All of this is for you!”

If ever there was a movie that didn’t require a remake, ‘The Omen‘ is one of them. Sure, its sequels could be tighter in some areas, but the original is basically fine as is. However, I suspect that there was money to be made in reviving the franchise, so a remake was born – the original fittingly being swapped for this cinematic Antichrist.

The timing was right, however: the filmmakers took advantage of 2006 to release the film on June 6, even though it was a Tuesday. They even went so far as to release it early that morning, at 6 o’clock, 6 minutes and 6 seconds. 2006-06-06 06:06:06 is a terrific gimmick, I must admit, but gimmicks are frequently the last recourse of anything that can’t stand up by itself.

I never had any intention of seeing this version of ‘The Omen’. Honestly, it even offends me that it was made. Plus which, I had heard that it wasn’t any good; the critics and the viewing public seemed in agreement on this one – aside from Roger Ebert, who bafflingly dismissed the original, only to lavish praise on this demon spawn.

But I had bought the blu-ray boxed set a few years ago, and had left it to gather dust on the shelf since. It included the remake, and at the time it was the only was to get the originals. So I was stuck with it. When I considered doing the Omen series for The Critical Eye, I decided to do them all, no matter how much pain I suffered in the process.

Right from the start, one gets this ominous feeling that 2006’s ‘The Omen’ will be a hot tar: it affects the look of any given number of straight-to-video productions, and eschews the widescreen, filmic look of the original. In so doing, it immediately announces that it can’t be taken as seriously as it must be if it truly wants to convince us that its story is realistic – and, thereby, scary.

Then it proceeds to destroying all that makes the original work: the ambiguity of Damien’s origin. What makes the original film creepy is that we don’t truly know what is wrong with Damien, even as many are trying to convince his parents -and us- that he is the spawn of Satan, the scenario is presented in such a way that we are as skeptical as the Thorns are… at first.

However, the 2006 version starts off with a sequence in the Vatican that basically announces the birth of the Antichrist before we are even introduced to Damien, thereby shifting the balance: for the rest of the movie, we are merely waiting for the protagonists to catch up to us. While many have likely heard of ‘The Omen’ before, this ruins it for those who haven’t.

Furthermore, the Vatican sequence is awkward because is goes through a list of events that signify the arrival of the End of Days, but it focuses only on American tragedies – as though the Vatican could only see world events through the prism of the United States. Urgh. And, furthermore, these tenuous disasters aren’t chronological, not following the signs in their proper order. So it doesn’t even make sense.

The rest of the picture mostly sticks to the same story as the original, having been penned by David Seltzer, who wrote the 1976 one as well. This is akin to  what happened with ‘Psycho’: the 1998 remake also went back to its original writer for the script. There are more changes in this rehash, but Seltzer mostly stayed the course and merely modified the story to reflect modern times.

So I won’t bother with the story. It’s okay. The key problems are in the production, direction, casting and score.

As mentioned earlier, the picture looks like a well-financed straight-to-video production. But, to make matters worse, the staging and pacing also add to this impression. John Moore, for some reason, just couldn’t infuse this picture with the aura of mystery, class and credibility that is necessary for such a spooky story. Everything is put together with a serious lack of subtlety.

Then there’s the cast.

Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick might be a good child actor. Who knows? However, unlike his predecessors, his presence is simply not emblematic of a sinister power:

  • Firstly, he looks like a cute dork, like a young Neil Tennant (from the Pet Shop Boys) – not like the Anti-Christ. He can sulk (or make his “Damien Face” as it’s called), but it’s not real emotion – unlike the original, who was masterfully directed by Richard Donner, tricked really, into emoting the way the scenes needed it.
  • Secondly he’s too old. And he f-ing talks. What worked with the original is that we got the sense that there were forces around the child that were malevolent – that it was not the child himself who was. By virtue of his age, we couldn’t even begin to imagine it, and he was too young to be truly self-aware and to communicate any evil intentions.

Davey-Fitzpatrick’s Damien is nothing more than moody child who sulks and makes faces, and he has no presence whatsoever. I have no idea what possessed the filmmakers to pick him as their Antichrist. Could it be… um… I don’t know… Satan?

Meanwhile, Liev Shrieber and Julia Stiles simply weren’t convincing enough for us to believe that they were our key protagonists, Robert and Katherine Thorn; they’re too average to be these rich, politically-connected people. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick provided the Thorns with flair, with an aristocratic demeanour that made sense contextually; they were potent enough that it lent the picture credibility.

Shrieber and Stiles’ takes on the Thorns could transform them into accountants and we wouldn’t know the difference; they don’t have the same confidence, the same entitlement, the class, or gravitas that the other two had. One might argue that this is superfluous, but I don’t think so: their original personalities inform their characters tremendously – explaining why they take so long to notice -and believe- that something is wrong with Damien, for instance.

But, honestly, to be fair, it’s quite possible that the problem is with the direction, because, whoah… even Mia Farrow sucked @$$ here. It’s hard to imagine, but her performance is, at best, adequate. Given how unsettling Mrs. Baylock’s presence was in the first one, it was disappointing to find a kooky nanny in her stead. At no point do we get a sense of danger from Farrow, even though she is absolutely capable of anything. So it must be the director’s fault.

It’s unfortunate, but that’s pretty much the case with everyone on hand (Pete Postlethwaite is particularly awful as Father Brennan!), which is why I want to blame the director. Only David Thewlis, as Keith Jennings, offers a decent enough presence – and, even then, it’s only when he has no lines to do, as is the case in the first part of the film. Once he’s given more to do, he merely gets by. (nota bene weirdly enough, he was the only cast member to be nominated for a Razzie)

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

To make matters worse, this ‘Omen’ is just riddled with stupidity. For example:

  • In this version, the sequence where the Thorns lose Damien by the river’s edge has Kate and Damien playing in a park instead. In the original, the couple is so self-involved that they don’t notice that Damien has strayed. Here, Kate turns around while Damien is on a swing, only to turn back two seconds later and find him missing. She scans the whole landscape and can’t see him. Somehow, in those two seconds, he mysteriously managed to run some 500 meters away and hide behind a tree. Then, for no reason at all, he asks his mom if he scared her and apologizes for doing so. It’s so poorly staged, it’s absolutely retarded.
  • The sequence where Kate and Damien go to an indoor zoo, has the apes go ape$#!t when Damien stands there looking at them – with a gorilla bashing into the glass encasement and scaring the pants off all the other parents and kids. But there’s no resolution; it never actually ends: one moment there’s a threat from all the apes, the next moment we’re in a completely different scene, with Kate resting at home. What happened in between? What… they merely left with no questions asked by anyone?
  • The scene in which Kate falls over the railing is set up as a deliberate attempt on her life by Damien. He actually goes right for her and crashes into her. In the original, it was obvious that Mrs. Baylock was setting Damien out to hurt Kate, but we got the impression that Damien himself didn’t do it on purpose – it looked like an accident. The thing here is that no one can possibly have any doubt about Damien’s intentions here, whereas in the original other characters could wonder about Kate’s paranoia.
  • Further to this, Kate’s fall from the railing is totally unbelievable. The original already stretched the limits of credulity due to the height from which she fell, but I always thought that, by flipping over, Kate was able to break her fall somewhat. Here, Kate falls straight on her back, and only suffers a broken collarbone. What? Not only that, but you should see how high she fell from this time – it must be two or three stories’ high! And yet she survived? WTF!

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

This ‘Omen’ also strays from some of the series’ conventions:

  • When we are first introduced to the Rottweilers, we don’t yet realize how significant they are – which is that they are essentially the omen of bad things to come. Here, not only do they have a smaller role, the first dog isn’t even a Rottweiler. It’s not like they changed them all up. No. Only the first one is a different breed of dog,

What’s with that first dog? Why isn’t it a Rottweiler? It’s a mainstay of the series’ mythology, so why change it for that one scene? If you’re gonna change it, change it all the way – these dogs were meant to be omens of evil deeds to come. Anyway, there was absolutely nothing scary about that drooling black dog at the beginning – unless you’re afraid of cute drooling puppy doggies, that is.

  • Unlike the original, which tends to set up the scares in a more traditional/clever fashion, this Omen tends to go for cheap scares like giving us nightmare sequences and using loud music to produce a shock. It’s absolutely ridiculous because not only are they clichés, but they’re the tools of someone who hasn’t mastered suspense.
  • Speaking of which, they decided to mostly avoid Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic, Oscar-winning score, which worked so beautifully because it knew how to create a mood. I’ve been a fan of Marco Beltrami in the past, but his score for this revamp is utterly unexceptional, even as it subtly refers to the originals. Nothing distinguishes it from any other horror film music – which is a huge loss for such a film.

Frankly, 2006’s remake of ‘The Omen’ is an utter mess. I’ve seen worse films, of course, but given the high standard that the original set for the series, this one is a travesty in comparison. Even the disappointing ‘The Final Conflict’ is a bloody masterpiece next to it. Whoever decided to green-light this picture is complicit in the killing of a franchise they were likely trying to give life to.

Katherine Thorn: “What’s the matter, those other kids didn’t want to play with you?”
Damien: “They’re afraid.”

Don’t see ‘The Omen (2006)’: it’s a bad picture by any standard. See the original. And if you like it, follow it up with ‘Damien: Omen II‘ and ‘The Final Conflict‘. The remake might not scar you for life, but it will hurt.

You’ve been warned. Don’t suffer needlessly.

Story: 6.0
Acting: 6.5
Production: 6.0

Chills: 2.5
Gore: 2.5
Violence: 2.5

Date of viewing: October 21, 2013

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