Satan’s child is meant to usher in the apocalypse in the new version of The Omen – but the film is more sulky than scary, says Sukhdev Sandhu
The Omen (15 cert, 110 min)
Remake season is upon us. Even the frights on offer are second-hand. Director John Moore has been hired to gloss up and redo The Omen for modern audiences. Quite why is not entirely clear.
The 1976 original, starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, scared the bejesus out of me as a child, to the point that I spent hours in front of the bathroom mirror anxiously inspecting my scalp to see if the number of the beast was etched there. Teenagers today are less easily spooked.
The new version of The Omen isn’t really a new version. The plot remains the same, so does much of the shot selection. And so does the script: the screenwriter, here as before, is David Seltzer. It’s been reported that Liev Schreiber, who plays Gregory Peck’s role, aka Damien’s dad, agreed to star in the film only after being assured that his character would be given a deeper back story and that more would be made of his lapsed Catholicism. It hasn’t. Julia Stiles, aka Damien’s mum, has spoken out about her struggle to find good, challenging roles for women in Hollywood. The struggle clearly goes on…
The story, like that of The Da Vinci Code, whose religiose Euro-goth atmosphere it shares, is at once simple and florid. Robert and Katherine Thorn (Schreiber and Stiles) are an American couple based in Rome. He’s an up-and-coming diplomat and, he proudly believes, the father of a newly born son. Unfortunately, nurses at the local hospital switch his child for one that emerged from a jackal’s womb. This boy (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is, worse luck, the Anti-Christ. No, he doesn’t wear hoodies, listen to Tim Westwood’s rap show on Radio 1, or even hang around city centres getting drunk at weekends. But he does have a fondness for having his enemies impaled, decapitated or asphyxiated.
He is, then, a thoroughly bad boy. And just as hoodie-wearers and Tim Westwood-listeners are meant to be helping bring about the decline of British civilisation as we know it, Damien is meant to be a harbinger of global apocalypse. Early scenes, either boldly or opportunistically depending on your point of view, show news footage of the World Trade Centre collapsing and of the tsunami hitting Thailand. Later, one of the characters recites some ancient script about the Anti-Christ being a product of the Holy Roman Empire and how this is linked to the Treaty of Rome that in 1957 helped to establish the EEC. Europhobes, if no one else, will love this film.
Special mention should be made of the casting directors, Susie Figgis and Jessica Horuathova. It takes guts, and great imagination, to cast Liev Schreiber as the father of the devil’s own child. He’s one of the most fascinatingly constipated actors in Hollywood today, someone who has all the charisma of a junior ancient history lecturer reciting obscure details about the Peloponnesian War.
Even here, upon learning that he, the US president’s godson, has been helping raise a wee Beelzebub, he looks not distraught, but as if he would like to hurl chalk at a misbehaving student in the back row. At least he looks like a grown-up; Julia Stiles, as his wife, resembles a child bride. She even seems younger than her “son”.
The action, unlike that in The Da Vinci Code, zips along at a fair old pace. And across so many places – Rome, London and Israel – that there’s always some new landmark or landscape to divert our eyes.
It’s still likely, however, that audiences will find themselves puzzling over a number of questions. How is Schreiber allowed to carry knives aboard an aircraft? Why does his ambassadorial house have such appalling furnishings? And did no one think to tell Mia Farrow, who plays Damien’s governess Mrs Baylock, that her newly Botoxed and trout-lipped features make her look odder than last year’s Celebrity Big Brother inmate Pete Burns?
It’s clear that Baylock is crackers from the moment she sees the beast-spawned whelp and cries out: “He’s beautiful.” Surely she must know that he’s the Anti-Christ – has she not seen The Omen? Or Omen III: The Final Conflict? Surely she must have been suspicious when he goes berserk every time he sees a church? Or when the chimps at the local zoo are scared witless by him?
In fact, Baylock is far scarier than Damien. He has only two expressions: one, flat and expressionless; the other, a slight frown that, while it would normally just mean that he’s been told off by matron for eating his bogeys, here means that it’s only a matter of time before one of the people around him gets a very nasty body-shock.
The Omen is certainly not a disaster. But it’s not camp, scary, or funny enough to be really enjoyable. It’s more sulky than satanic. Too many elements are cribbed – Stiles having bad visions of her son looking like a goat-beast is borrowed from the Garden of Gethsemane scenes in The Passion of the Christ. Too many scenes make you laugh rather than shiver.