June 14, 2006

Movie Review: The Omen (2006)

The very idea of remaking a beloved film can be a very touchy proposition for those fans who love the original. In this case, I have not seen the original (blasphemy!), so I did not have that baggage going into this film. It did not have the extra hurdle of my thoughts of the original, good or bad, clouding my judgment. I have the original film in possession, but have not gotten to it, and as the remake approached, I decided to wait until after seeing this new incarnation. Now, is this film successful? The short answer is yes.

Even if you haven't seen either version, I am sure that most of you are already familiar with the concept behind the story. Armageddon is approaching, the prophesied omens are becoming a reality, the final being the coming of the son of Satan. The Omen tells the story of that coming of the son of the beast. It is a rather epic sounding tale, but it is disguised in a much more personal story.

The story proper concerns the family Thorn. Robert (Liev Schreiber) is an assistant to the ambassador of Italy, or something like that. He and his wife are at the dawn of their family when tragedy strikes. His wife, Katherine (Julia Stiles) goes into labor, but complications cause her to lose her child. Before she discovers this, Robert is offered the child of a woman, with no family, who died in child birth. Robert agrees to take the child as his own, and so it is, their fate has been sealed.

As the years go by and their child, named Damien of course, grows up into a creepy young child. The other kids avoid him, and strange things happen in Final Destination-like ways (a series surely inspired by events in the original, if they are anything like this remake). Katherine senses her son is different, and Robert knows so, although he has convinced himself to ignore them.

As the odd happenstances mount up, a priest, Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite), arrives to warn Robert of the coming dangers. This is were the atmosphere begins to really amp up. The nature of their child is revealed, and only Robert can put a stop to the coming horrors. Joining him is a photographer with a theory and a fear for his life, played by David Thewlis.

What can I say? I liked this movie. Remakes have a very spotty record, especially lately, too the point that many are beginning to swear them off. I prefer to take them on a case by case basis, reserving final judgement until after seeing it. In this case I went in without the baggage of knowing the original, and I admit I am sure that helped me. That is not to say that this would have been any less good had seen the original first.

Director John Moore hits all the right notes from David Seltzer's script. The mood is subdued, the pacing is even, and the acting is good. Moore does a good job at keeping the unease just below the surface, as the problems slowly reveal themselves to the Thorn family, they are revealed to the audience. These revelations present us with a slow burn, in particular with Robert Thorn's arc.

The acting is good, although I wasn't sure that I was going to like Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien. As much as I loved the teaser trailer, the more I saw of him, he looked like just another creepy kid in an Angus Young costume. It seems like any kid can play creepy, but not all can play good creepy. Seamus fell somewhere in the middle, as he had some truly creepy looks, but they were interspersed with just as many unintentionally funny faces. Carrying the film are Schreiber and Stiles, both of them did an excellent job. Stiles is good as the young mother harboring thoughts of how different her child is. The disgust she has for herself and the fear that develops between mother and child is effectively unsettling. Even better than that is Schreiber's portrait of a man in personal crisis. He feels a loyalty to his family, but the occurrences and knowledge brought to him is too much to bear as he breaks down into a conflicted mess before his vision clears and his path is set before him as the climax approaches.

Not to be outdone, a few members of the supporting cast standout. First is Mia Farrow as the nanny with the mission to protect the young Dark Prince. She is suitably bizarre of behavior. Then we have the duo of Pete Postlethwaite as Fr. Brennan, and David Thewlis as Keith, the photographer with a vested interest in the outcome. Both of them a very effective in their respective roles, ones I am glad to have seen.

Bottomline. Not the best horror film, nor the best remake, but undeniably (well, maybe deniably) a good film. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how moving Liev Schreiber's performance was. This is a film worth checking out. Now I have to go watch the original and prepare to have my opinions changed (possibly....).

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