The Omen (review)

Creepy Comfort Food

[spoilers… unless you’ve seen ‘The Omen’… and you’ve seen ‘The Omen,’ right?]

My movie-geek friends and I sometimes play a game where we take an old classic flick and recast it with actors working today. Like, if you were gonna remake Star Wars, who would play Han Solo? That kind of thing. Why would we do that? I dunno — maybe it’s just the prospect of hearing someone like Josh Holloway or David Duchovny saying, “Never tell me the odds!” It’s just fun.

And I think director John Moore played that game with the creepy-silly 1976 flick The Omen… and I think he had a whole helluva lot of fun in the process. Look, he got Pete Postlethwaite to dress up like a priest and say classic stuff like “His mother is a jackal!” That’s awesome. That’s pure movie-geek goofiness. And maybe casual moviegoers who don’t see the dorky joy of that won’t find much to appreciate in this remake that they didn’t find in the original, but for me, seeing an example of The Casting Game taken to fruition and up on the screen is enough of an answer to that eternal Hollywood question: Why remake this movie now?
Sure, Moore — who is building a track record of making movies that are simply popcorn-fun, like Flight of the Phoenix (another remake) and Behind Enemy Lines — makes a bit of an attempt to update David Seltzer’s 1976 script for today, throwing in some handwringing by the Vatican over all the signs of the Apocalypse that have been showing up lately, like 9/11 and the Indonesian tsunami. But for the most part, this is strikingly like the original film, to the point where part of the movie-geek fun is ticking off the classic moments as they swing around: There’s the big black satanic dog! There’s the birthday party with the hanged nanny! Here comes the bit with Damien screaming at the prospect of going to church! Oh, I think I know what they’re gonna find in that grave in the Italian cemetery!

It’s like the remake of Poseidon from a few weeks ago, only better. And that’s because, in a weird way, this Omen is so much more like the original than Poseidon was. Moore didn’t mess with a classic, like Poseidon did — he’s paying homage to it. I mean, no one stages Hamlet if they don’t love the play, and not to make this Omen sound heavier than it is, cuz it’s just a cool and creepy movie, but it’s kinda like that. It’s not deep or important or challenging — it’s cinematic comfort food. Sometimes you want filet mignon, sure, but sometimes you just want meatloaf.

And this is really really good meatloaf, with the chunky mashed potatoes and gravy made from scratch, not poured out of a can. I don’t mean to insult this cast by likening them to diner food — they are why it’s so much fun waiting for all the Omen moments to come around, to see how they’ll deal with them, and why the film is still so suspenseful even when you know absolutely everything that’s gonna happen. Every single one of them makes you go, Yes! That’s exactly whom I would have cast! Liev Schreiber (The Manchurian Candidate, The Sum of All Fears) is Robert Thorn this time around, the American diplomat who, out of love for his wife, agrees to a secret baby substitution that saddles him with the spawn of Satan. Schreiber’s one of those sly actors who can turn on a dime between genuinely profound emotion and deadpan snark, and though here it’s mostly things like heartstopping grief and sheer terror that he’s working with, he’s the kind of actor who keeps you on your toes, never quite knowing what to expect from him. And he’s a lot more convincing, actually, as an anguished father and husband than Gregory Peck was in the original, particularly paried up with Julia Stiles (The Bourne Supremacy, Mona Lisa Smile) as Robert’s wife, Katherine. Both Schreiber and Stiles are at least twenty years younger than Peck and Lee Remick were in the original — the other major deviation Moore took from 1976 — which supplies one of the few new spins: It’s all in the subtext, nothing overt, but now, instead of an older couple and their last-chance child, we have a much younger couple with different hopes and expectations from parenthood.

And the rest of the cast is just, well, gravy. Mia Farrow, the mother of Rosemary’s baby, as Mrs. Baylock, the satantic nanny? That’s simply inspired. Postlethwaite (Aeon Flux, The Constant Gardener) as the doomed-to-be-impaled Father Brennan is perfect. David Thewlis (Basic Instinct 2, Kingdom of Heaven) as Keith Jennings, the photographer who captures warnings of impeding death with his cameras? Who else could you possible cast in that role? The kid playing Damien, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, is like an evil little Harry Potter, dark hair, blue eyes, and a malevolent pout. He’s hilarious. Evil, but hilarious. (More fun: The original Damien, Harvey Stephens, appears briefly here as a reporter.)

Come to think of it, I bet Daniel Radcliffe would be awesome as the teenage Damien in a new remake of The Omen II

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