Hollywood finally seems to have given up on turning 1970s TV shows into bad films and has moved on to cinema classics. On first impression The Omen looks promising, with director/producer John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) taking the helm and Liev Schreiber (The Manchurian Candidate) and Julia Stiles (The Bourne Supremacy) taking on the roles made famous by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, and a good supporting cast.
For the few people who haven’t seen the original here it is in a nutshell. A man whose child had died at birth agrees to substitute a healthy child he is given by a priest at the hospital without his wife’s knowledge, everything is fine for a while then people start dying rather horribly and he realises his son is the Antichrist.
In some movie genres, a remake works. In others it doesn’t. The Omen is part horror and part psychological thriller. It relies on tension – what is going to happen? Will Good triumph over Evil? If you already know the answers, where is the suspense that you rely on to keep the tension building up to the climax? Therein lies one of the major problems with this movie.
Liev Schreiber gives a creditable performance as Richard Thorn, much younger than in the original at 39. He portrays the route to realisation that his character takes over the course of the film well, but the inevitable comparison to Peck leaves a little to be desired. Julia Stiles (again more youthful at 25) is something of a disappointment as wife Kathryn, although this is not entirely her fault as it was an underdeveloped part even in the original. She tries her best to show her character’s slow breakdown, moving from vague uneasiness through to utter terror, but the film’s plot and pacing don’t allow for the in-depth development that needs. It’s best left to Rosemary’s Baby.
The strongest supporting performance comes from David Thewlis as photographer Keith Jennings, he gets right into the character and really gets it spot on. Mia Farrow portrays Mrs Baylock the satanic nanny, although for some reason she seems more like a demented Mary Poppins. Pete Postlethwaite is Father Brennan, the priest trying to save his soul by saving Thorn and Michael Gambon makes a very brief appearance as archaeologist Bugenhagen. Newcomer Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick finishes off the cast (literally) as Damien, but this isn’t the toddler from the original – now Damien is much more malevolent and it’s nowhere near as chilling, convincing or good.
Until fairly recently Moore was directing commercials, and it shows. The film fails to hit the mark on a number of levels, and something like this is not supposed to make the audience snigger (e.g. the satanic dog whose breathing sounds like it’s coming out of the other end and some totally overdone death scenes.) Of course there are some good points. Shot mostly on location in Prague, some of the sets and scenery are breathtaking and screenwriter David Seltzer, who wrote the original, has done a good job of bring the movie up to date without overdoing it.
Whilst the performances of Schreiber and Thewlis save this from being as dire as it could have been, it still fails to live up to the hype and the original. If you’re not familiar with the original it’s an average romp, if you are then watch that instead.