Beyond 6/6/06


By Carina Chocano

2006, Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- When the Lord, or whoever, offers you a release date like 06/06/06, you have no choice but to take it. Hence director John Moores (Behind Enemy Lines) stunt remake of The Omen, Richard Donners classic of cornball 70s horror.

Based on a script by David Seltzer, who also wrote the original, the movie is commendably faithful to its source, despite some early intimations that it might take off in a more topical -- and interesting -- direction.

In the movies only major departure from the original, it opens on a Vatican priest peering through a telescope, on the lookout for the celestial birth announcement signaling arrival of the Antichrist. When the seventh sign comes, he quickly alerts the ecclesiastical authorities, then prepares a PowerPoint presentation on the Apocalypse (which, surely, counts as the eighth sign) for a speechless pope.

The End of Times is nigh, or at least thats what recent current events would suggest. And The Omen has the new footage to prove it, which is scary -- possibly too scary for the filmmakers. The signs of the Apocalypse, which the movie has no trouble linking with events such as the fall of the twin towers, the tsunami in Thailand, the goings-on at Abu Ghraib, turn out to be a tease. Like its predecessor, The Omen remains at its core a domestic parenting drama. (Though in this regard, too, things have gotten scarier since the 70s, or at least far more jittery and fraught.)

Despite slick camera work by Jonathan Sela and intense, naturalistic performances by Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles, The Omen retains the aura of ceremonious kitsch of the first movie, favoring a well-lighted, upscale Goth aesthetic punctuated with flashes of well-timed, cymbal-crashing shockers and giggly camp. Robert Thorn (Schreiber), the No. 2 guy at the American embassy in Rome, rushes to the side of his wife, Kate (Stiles), who has just delivered their child alone, last century-style. At the hospital, a priest tells Thorn his son has died in childbirth, but how would he like to adopt this newborn mystery orphan over here? (Sure, it sounds too good to be true, but when a priest, or whoever, hands you a boy to replace your stillborn child. . . .)

Before long, the little foundling has blossomed into a creepy toddler with ink-black hair, azure eyes and a sinister pout. Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is not like other kids, to mom Kates never-ending chagrin. (Thorn keeps meaning to tell her about the swap, but never gets around to it.) His terrible twos get off to a big start at his birthday party, when his young nanny, with a nod from a lurking hellhound, hangs herself from a third-story window.

Unlike Lee Remicks bad 70s mommy, who was prone to tossing the kid in the direction of the nearest butler whenever something more interesting came up, Stiles Kate is not immune to the effect Damien has on others. During a group trip to the zoo, Damien terrifies the monkeys and spooks the other kids, but nothing is as terrifying as the pitying, judgmental glances of the other, smugger mommies.

Naturally, Kate blames herself, and seeks professional help. She enters therapy around the same time as a new nanny -- played by Mia Farrow in a bit of stunt casting that she works to the hilt -- mysteriously enters their employ. Mrs. Baylock (Farrow) is no longer the gargoyle-faced spinster of the original, shes now a creepily passive-aggressive child-care specialist, who assures the Thorns that she never forgets that shes not the parent.

Thorn, meanwhile, struggles with whether or not to spill the beans to his wife, especially after hes visited by a nut-job priest spouting fire-and-brimstone. Evincing a tragic lack of directness, Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) skulks around like a caped Bela Lugosi, unpersuasively trying to talk Thorn into a ritual killing.

Moore has ratcheted up the boo factor, more or less absent from the original, but neither he and Seltzer care to unpack the allusions set up in the opening scene. It says something about our capacity for looking beyond our own navels that the problem remains mostly en famille. While mom retreats into therapy and dad tries to get to the root of the bait-and-switch, the world is coming apart at the seams. Whos minding the store? Even the church leaves the solution to the discretion of his adoptive father. You adopt the Antichrist, buddy, hes your problem now.

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