I couldn’t resist the temptation to see The Omen on the big 6/6/06 opening day. The previews I saw for this remake gave me the impression that they had simply re-shot the entire film scene for scene. I was intrigued. Would the contemporary actors and camera work make a popular, though dated, 70s film more accessible and palatable to modern audiences? Has young Julia Stiles really come far enough to believably play someone’s mother? Could Hollywood really have the nerve to re-make a classic almost shot for shot? Why would they do this? Though I didn’t find all the answers I was looking for, I did find some. Remind me to never doubt just how far Hollywood will go!
The Omen follows a fairly simple plot. The story begins when father-to-be, Mr. Thorn, receives an emergency phone call about “complications during childbirth.” After rushing to the hospital he learns that the child didn’t make it and young Mrs. Thorn was injured during labor and will not be able to have another child. Mrs. Thorn has not been informed and the Mr. Thorn is presented with a choice. Tell his wife the truth, crush her hopes of raising a family, and remain a childless couple. Or… adopt an orphaned son born only moments ago, raise the boy as his own, and never tell the wife a thing. They say the road to hell is paved with the best intentions. Apparently, the road to hell spawn is made from similar stuff. Events begin to unfold which lead the Mr. Thorn to suspect his surrogate child, Damien, is actually evil incarnate.
Sound similar to the original? It is. Exactly. Well, 97.5% anyway. This Hollywood remake isn’t the typical retelling, revision, revamp, or rework that I’ve become accustomed to recently. Movies like the recent King Kong and War of the Worlds stay extremely faithful to the source material while adding a bit of action here and removing a bit of cheese there. However, The Omen is quite literally a remake. As in “To make again.” As in “Why bother?”
I’ve seen the original a couple times and I enjoy it quite a bit as an above average Religious Horror film (a favorite sub-genre of mine) and as the classic predecessor to countless horror films that have followed. This new Omen is enjoyable for all the reasons the original is. It’s creepy. The Omen takes a subtle approach to horror when most other movies opt for gross-outs or the increasingly annoying sudden noise method. One piercing gaze by a stone-faced child can be a whole lot more unsettling than any rubber monster suit! Where the movie really excels is its use of symbolism. References to the Book of Revelations are scattered throughout the film, the infamous number 666 is used sparingly, large black dogs watch ominously from the distance, and steely glances from little Damien convey more hatred than any four letter word.
Going in, I had many apprehensions about the casting of this new version. I’ve seen Julia Stiles in several films and I always enjoy her performances, but I was unsure whether she could pull off the concerned mother role. After Phantoms and Sphere, I was confident that Liev Schreiber could do horror but not about his ability to play the leading role. Stiles impresses and Schreiber carries the movie without missing a beat. I even managed to forget that he was filling the very big shoes of Gregory Peck who played Mr. Thorn in the original film! The Omen‘s cast is rounded out by Mia Farrow and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick. Farrow (Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby) was extremely sinister as the nanny and Davey-Fitzpatrick was a great Damien.
If it seems I don’t have anything bad to say about The Omen, it’s because I don’t. I can’t think of a single thing they could have done differently to approve on the original and, apparently, neither could the filmmakers! The Omen is a horror classic for a reason. It’s a solid film with fantastic subtlety and symbolism. This Omen tells the exact same story as its predecessor and while the actors didn’t bring anything new, they definitely didn’t ruin it either. Kudos to you Hollywood, you managed to not screw up a classic. Now, remind me again why you bothered at all? I recommend The Omen to horror fans, fans of the original, and film fanatics interested in a good remake. I do not recommend The Omen to people that hated the original, snobs that believe new can never be as good as old, fans of the original that don’t wish to see the same story all over again, or anyone that needs their films to be approved by their minister.
*A joke for the Christian Right that was horrified at the blasphemies contained in The Da Vinci Code: Check out The Omen. It follows your book much better!*
Final Grade: B (…or exactly what you rated the original)
The Upside: Symbolic, subtle, creepy, and very true to the original.
The Downside: Very true to the original. Is the movie really necessary?
On the Side: Rachel Weisz turned down the role of Mrs. Thorn due to pregnancy. Although Laura Linney, Alicia Witt, and Hope Davis were all considered, after a recommendation from Mia Farrow, Julia Stiles finally got the part.