The Omen (2006)

For a while back in the ’70s, horror movies had weighty things on their minds. Americans were concerned about the real presence of evil in the world — terrorism, an unpopular war, a widely hated president — so Lucifer himself, the fallen angel representing a fallen country, brought his brimstone stench into theaters. Americans were afraid of their own children, so in many cases Satan took the form of a cherub. Americans were uneasy about the Middle East, so in films like The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976), all the trouble started there — or, at least, all the spooky evidence was found there.

Gee, how things have changed. 9/11, Columbine, an unpopular war in the Middle East — the stars, Mr. Thorn, I say unto you the stars have aligned for the ghastly return of the Adversary. Well, either that or June 6, 2006 was a really cool release date for a remake of The Omen.

As before, ambassador Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber, in for Gregory Peck) and his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles replacing Lee Remick) find themselves the adoptive parents of the scowling young Anti-Christ — Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), who by all appearances is a perfectly normal five-year-old boy, but who is attended by a snarling black dog and a nanny named Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow) who speaks of having been sent by “the agency.” That would be, I presume, the famous Nannies from Hell Agency, established 1976 by Billie Whitelaw. (Thirty years experience protecting your hellchild from the sharp knives of Meggido. Call today!)

The Omen was ridiculous in 1976 and it’s ridiculous now. Richard Donner’s original film, an unstable mix of old-Hollywood pomp and post-Vietnam bloodletting, moves like a snail across an acre of flypaper; any residual affection attached to it by horror fans derives more or less solely from its freakish death scenes. For that, these days, we turn to the Final Destination series, which do the Omen series one better by making the villain Death himself. I will say that thirty years of special-effects evolution have given us more realistic renditions of the church-impales-priest bit and the whoops!-there-goes-your-head bit. I can also testify that the final scene between the hapless Katherine and the ruthless Mrs. Baylock plays out much more credibly here than in the original (wherein — not to spoil it — we did have to wonder, “Wait, what? And she got away with it?”).

Julia Stiles is a terrific actress in the right role, which isn’t what she’s got here. Stiles is twenty-five but could still pass for fifteen, and she will probably have to wait another ten years before seeming remotely believable — or comfortable — playing a mom. She may be too spiky a presence to exude maternal instincts, anyway. (While she may, if she chooses, make a fine real-life mother someday, it’s all about how she comes across on film.) As for Liev Schreiber, he responds to the challenge of following Gregory Peck by going small and minimalist; Peck was certainly a stoic slice of ham, but he could get it together and get his voice up when necessary. Schreiber just lets the plot bulldoze him, a passive hero unconsciously aping Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code, trailing behind people who are always telling him what things mean.

Omen ’06 did bang-up business on June 6, perhaps owing to all the giggly teens and twentysomethings who responded as expected to the brilliant calendar marketing. Whether it has enough staying power to warrant remakes of 1978’s Damien – Omen II (the Anti-Christ as conflicted teenager) and 1981’s The Final Conflict (the Anti-Christ as Donald Trump) remains to be seen; it ranked fourth over the weekend, presumably abandoned by those who didn’t want to be so unhip as to see it on June 10 or something. Even if sequels are planned, though, the precedent of the 666 release date presents a practical problem: There won’t be another opportunity for this kind of Gregorian synergy until June 6, 2106. That means any subsequent Omen movie will just have to come out on, like, a Friday. Bummer.1

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