The UnPopular Opinion: The Omen (2006)
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Happy Halloween everyone! I love this time of year when we can all watch really cheesy movies and jump out of our seats without worrying as to whether or not the movies are Oscar caliber. Frankly, most horror movies are pushed aside close to the porn and looked at as the lesser films available. Only on October 31st will everyone open themselves up to being scared without judgement. But, there are some horror films that transcend the genre and will forever be a part of pop culture and cinema history. With movies like THE EXORCIST, ROSEMARY'S BABY, or even THE SHINING, that is because the filmmakers behind the camera brought something unique and special to the movie. Sometimes that magic cannot be recaptured (see remakes of FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET as examples), but sometimes the remake is able to achieve something the original could not. THE OMEN is one of those remakes.
Richard Donner's original THE OMEN was released in the middle of the Cold War and capitalized on the ongoing fear of the impending Apocalypse. While today's end times scenario in film usually leans towards zombie infestation or a massive asteroid hitting earth, the seventies was prime ground for religious themed horror. THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY'S BABY did it to great effect years before and THE OMEN continued that trend. Donner's film was one of the first to show a decapitation on screen and had some classic horror moments that we remember to this day. But, THE OMEN was deeply rooted in the era in which it was made. It feels dated and doesn't carry the same horror that it did thirty years ago.
Worst Cialis ad ever.
Now, I praised Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO remake in this very column for being a bold cinematic experiment to recreate a classic. The 2006 version of THE OMEN is not an experiment but rather an update to the first film. After three sequels, including one that was straight to cable, THE OMEN had fallen into the same genre stereotypes that most horror franchises get stuck in. While it could never undermine the first film, it was a good time to try and see if the magic could be recreated on the big screen.
Director John Moore (A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, MAX PAYNE) is not someone you would consider a step up from Richard Donner, but he does a good job making THE OMEN respectful to it's source while adding to it in positive ways. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick are replaced by Liev Schrieber and Julia Stiles which some would consider a step down in cast. Schrieber, who also starred in the excellent remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, takes a much more involved role as Richard Thorn, the U.S. Ambassador who learns his adopted son is the spawn of Satan. Stiles plays the rattled mother who doesn't trust her son with a quieter paranoia than Remick did in the original.
A deleted scene from ROSEMARY'S BABY II
But, it is the awesome supporting cast where THE OMEN comes alive. Pete Postlethwaite, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon, and Mia Farrow all take roles played by relative unknowns in the original film. You would think this may detract from the film's overall creepy factor, but having these recognizable faces just drives it home a little more. Donner's THE OMEN is unsettling in the evil power of Damien while Moore's THE OMEN hits you in the face with the supernatural horror. The signature moments feature the nanny suicide, the death of Thewlis' character, and the Devil dogs all are here and are reminiscent of the original, but the added scenes of subliminal evil are what gives this take on THE OMEN a little extra nudge in the scary direction.
Whether it be the red hooded visage of a man with a horse skull or a creepy priest dropping a child's toy, Moore injects his take on THE OMEN with more direct scares. There is a school of thought that I usually subscribe to that what you do not see on screen can sometimes be scarier than what you do. While Donner's THE OMEN has a sense of foreboding that creates a tension through the film, you never really got to see anything beyond some cult-like followers and the 666 tattoo on the kid's head. I am not one for telegraphed scares, but Moore lets the story of THE OMEN do what it needs to and doesn't inject any unnecessary special effects or gore. Instead he relies on the tension in the screenplay and the setting and jabs at the viewer with quick flashes and brief disturbing imagery.
Drop it like its hot...oh, god! Is that a fetus?
And of course there is little Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien. In Donner's version, Damien is a quiet boy with a creepy face but you can somewhat believe he is just a normal kid. This Damien is clearly the son of the Devil. Davey-Fitzpatrick has more dialogue in this film, delivered in whispers with a level of knowing who and what he is that was missing in the original film. I felt kind of bad for Damien in Donner's take but this updated character is definitely on the evil side of things. His enhanced relationship with his new nanny, Mrs. Baylock, drives home the cabal of evil dwelling not far from the public eye.
If it came down to a choice for a Halloween night between Donner's classic and Moore's remake, I think I would choose the 2006 version. Either version of THE OMEN will creep you out on a spooky night, but the remake has just a little more polish to really drive home the horror.
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