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The Omen

David Seltzer's desire for yet another paycheck combined with the irresistible release date of 6-6-06, seem to have prompted Hollywood to revisit

The Omen

franchise. I haven't seen the 1976, Richard Donner-directed

The Omen

in decades but I remember it as a rather cheesy horror thriller that tried'and financially succeeded'to tap into the popularity of films such as

Rosemary's Baby

and

The Exorcist

. It was a B horror movie with A-list stars in Academy Award winners Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. Donner's direction delivered a couple genuinely chilling moments, but all in all, not a remarkable effort. But the first

Omen

did make a lot of money at the box office and spawned a couple of sequels (

Damien: The Omen II, The Final Conflict

).

This year's remake arrives with a similarly stellar cast. This time out Liev Schrieber and Julia Stiles star as parents whose son begins to exhibit some strange qualities. Mia Farrow (who mothered Satan's spawn in Rosemary's Baby ) plays Damien's protective Nanny. Schrieber is Robert Thorn, a U.S. diplomat whose wife delivers a supposedly stillborn child. A Catholic priest at the hospital suggests that Thorn substitute another infant'whose mother died in childbirth'for the dead one. Out of love for his wife, Thorn agrees and keeps the switch a secret.

Flash forward five years. Thorn has been made ambassador to Great Britain and Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) has turned into a creepy little child. At his fifth birthday party, Damien's young nanny commits suicide and later at the zoo all the animals go crazy as he walks by the exhibits. To help the Thorns cope, they hire a new nanny named Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow), a smiling, cheery woman who also happens to be an agent of Satan (although that's not on her resume). A priest (Pete Postlethwaite) tries to warn Thorn that Damien is the Anti-Christ, who bears the 'mark of the beast' and will bring Armageddon. But Thorn finds that difficult to believe. So more people must die as Damien's evil powers grow.

Directed by John Moore and scored by Marco Beltrami, The Omen bluntly announces its intention to scare in the opening credits. While music hammers home the ominous tone, a montage of apocalyptic images is designed to fill us with dread. The film opens by saying it's here to scare you and then it has nowhere to go from there. We known Damien is evil from the get go so there is no tension or dramatic build up. When Mrs. Thorn suggests that Damien is evil, we know she's right because Moore has Davey-Fitzpatrick plays the boy as demonic from early on. The horror and the suspense would have been better served if we had doubts and if Damien sometimes appeared deceptively angelic. Moore settles for the stock shock of things that jump out of the dark or creepy nightmare images that abruptly wake characters from sleep. Nothing here will chill you to the bone like The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby did. And although it is fun to see Rosemary Baby's innocent victim Mia Farrow play an evil character here, her Mrs. Baylock is so clearly intended to be a sweetly smiling form of evil that again the film fails to build any suspense.

Maybe the filmmakers felt that since this was a remake, no one would be surprised by the fact that Damien was the Anti-Christ so they just decided to forgo any suspense on that point. But whatever the line of reasoning, this version of The Omen delivers its horror with machine-like predictability. Moore has previously directed a pair of muscular action films, Behind Enemy Lines and Flight of the Phoenix (another remake) that also failed to move beyond trite formula. The Omen is undistinguished by any invigorating freshness or stylish flair. In the press materials, Moore described the visual style, as a struggle between light and dark but viewers will have to struggle to grasp that artistic intent. More obvious is his unsubtle use of the color red to signal ominous happenings.

The Omen (rated R for violence, disturbing images and some language) has failed to make any improvements to its story in the thirty years since the original film came out. It's not as much of a failure as the recent remake of The Poseidon Adventure , yet it fails to display any reason for tackling middling material a second time. If you can't improve on source material or bring something fresh to it, why even bother to remake it at all. Moore fails to make us care for the characters or even for the fate of the world.

Companion viewing: The Omen (1976), Rosemary's Baby , Day of the Beast -----

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