Media : This devil’s in the details

The new Omen remake foregoes the sledgehammer for the scalpel, with favorable results

If it ain’t broke, don’t (upside-down cruci)fix it. If director John Moore employed a mantra while producing his rehash of The Omen, now in theaters, this may well have been it. To wit: Moore’s update of Richard Donner’s 1976 horror standard is just that — an update. Opting much more for, say, snappy repackaging than wholesale reimagining, Moore wisely offers what is close to a scene-for-scene recreation, with just enough additions and alterations to make it somewhat his own.

His dad could totally beat up your dad: Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick stars as Damien Thorn in The Omen.

Not to spoil too much, but the kid’s the son of Satan. OK? If we’re going to get through this, I’m going to have to tell you at least that much. (Incidentally, Rosebud’s a sled, Vader’s his dad, and Spacey’s fakin’ the limp. Eat me. Watch more movies.) We get the same basic set-up: Robert Thorn, a high-ranking U.S. government official, rushes to the hospital where his wife has just given birth, only to be informed by an attendant priest that the child is dead. Thorn, distraught, is then shown what appears to be a perfectly healthy baby boy, primed for swappin’ and skullduggery. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom: couple unwittingly adopts antichrist, and death and carnage (eventually) ensue, along with one of the worst cases of postpartum depression, like, ever.

As mentioned, changes are small. Lee Remick’s Kathy Thorn is now Julia Stiles’s Kate. Robert (a stoic Liev Schreiber) begins as deputy ambassador to Great Britain (he ascends to ambassador when his superior is dispatched, Rube-Goldberg-cum-Final-Destination-style, in the first of the film’s crowd-tailored gonzo death-scenes). The notorious Father Brennan scene is CGI-d up, but not improved upon; likewise for that of Keith Jennings, hapless photographer. (Casting for these parts, however, is impeccable; Pete Postlethwaite as the tortured clergyman is perhaps the best actor-role match of the summer, with the possible exception of Kelsey Grammer’s Beast in the third X-Men installment.) The most glaring problem is the tyke, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, who — through no fault of his own — is too freckle-faced and adorable to be menacing. Harvey Stephens was freaky; this kid makes you want to pinch his cheek and infuse your speech with “w”s (“widdle,” f’r’instance). Oddly, though, this isn’t much of a distraction.

Other tweaks work well: One of the later deaths is made less gruesome, but altogether more chilling; three effective-because-they’re-earned boo-scares are welcome; a persistent red-portends-bad-shit visual motif gets rather heavy-handed but is nonetheless nice to look at; and a hit-and-miss series of dream sequences is a worthwhile addendum. Giddily gratifying, also, is a delightfully ingenious bit of casting-(directly)-against-type: Mia Farrow (née the guileless Rosemary of Rosemary’s Baby) infuses the Billie Whitelaw “replacement-nanny” role with a thoroughly different, but equally effective, energy.

As for what has not changed, and is still effective: Both films are judicious and spot-on with their use of silence, and David Seltzer’s nearly identical scripts for both Omens make each the artful, dramatic-irony dreadfest Donner and Moore envisioned. Interestingly enough, the legendary and bizarre production-related goings-on of the original have reportedly been inherited by its successor, though things only got as bad as food poisoning this time around, as opposed to freakish death-and-dismemberment. (Additionally, while writing this review, I paused to use the restroom and heard a weird noise issue from my bathtub drain. I’m just sayin’.)

There will doubtless be those, as with Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, who question the need for such a closely modeled reissue. But I doubt the 1976 version would’ve drawn quite as many “Oh, shit”s and “No he didn’t”s as this sensitively souped-up one did from the 17-year-olds seated behind me, and Moore satisfies both the torch-wielding purist and the fresh-seeker in me. Ladies and gents: Your first smart horror hit of the summer.

Just don’t get too reverent.


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