Liev Schreiber co-starred in one of the few remakes that worked, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. It was that remake, in fact, that restored my faith in the concept of re-visting a classic film. Alas, Mr. Schreiber’s latest adventure in remakes, THE OMEN, is much less successful. There are no new insights, no shift in perspective that breathes a new life into the story of Satan’s child, Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), come to wreak havoc on the mortal plane. It introduces clips of 9/11 and the Christmas tsunami as portents of his coming, but the most piquant synchronicity at work here is that this flick shares the summer movie season with a film that posits the great-great-great, etc grandchild of Jesus walks among us, and that the Catholic Church is after both progeny.
But I digress.
Schreiber is Robert Thorn, a rising star in the diplomatic corps whose son died the night he was born in Rome. Heartbroken, and wanting to spare his beloved wife, Kate (Julia Stiles) similar pain, he agrees to substitute an orphan baby that an earnest priest offers to him born that same night. And here we have the moral of the story right smack at the beginning. Telling a lie, even with the best intentions, is wrong, as in what the road to Hell is paved with. Years later, Robert is offered a plum posting in London, one that gets even plummier when the ambassador-designate has an unfortunate accident at exactly 6:06:06 pm. Life is going very well for him. You guessed it. Too well. At Damien’s fifth birthday party on the grounds of the gracious estate the Thorn family has occupied, amidst the merry-go-round, a passel of kids, and a cake the size of a small car, tragedy strikes as the nanny hangs herself in full view of everyone with a cheery shout of “It’s all for you, Damien” as her parting words.
In rapid succession, a seemingly ideal nanny (Mia Farrow) appears, as does a priest (Pete Postlethwaite), who may be loony, but he also has more information than he should about Damien’s origins. Add a photographer (David Thewliss) who notices odd things that shouldn’t be there popping up on his prints, and Kate’s growing suspicion that there is something very, very wrong with Damien, what with his never having had so much as a sniffle and the way zoo animals go wacka-wacka around him, and you’ve got the makings of a harrowing experience
There is an excellent chemistry between Schreiber and Stiles as a comfortably married couple, and as the film progresses, Schrieber’s facility with intense emotions that run deep is especially effective. The film as a whole, though looking wonderful with slick direction, edgy camera work, and a subtle motif of skulls, lacks the energy of discovery or, you’ll pardon the word, revelation. Rather, it feels like a RE-telling just going through the motions and hitting the motifs that we all loved in the original. Not that there aren’t a few nice twists that are genuinely terrifying, not the least of which is Mia Farrow as the nanny from Hell, literally, sent along with a large black dog, to protect the demon seed until he can start taking care of himself. There is in her sweet smile and in her evil scowl equal measures of menace. She reeks of pure evil with the fires of Hell glowing in her eyes with the fervor of the fanatic that her character is. The kid on the other hand, never quite manages to be creepy. Petulant, sure. Sulky, oh yeah. But heart-stoppingly scary. Never. Not even when he’s beating the crap out of his mother when she tries to take him to church.
THE OMEN is a sincere attempt, just not an electrifying one. It’s like that good intention that kick-starts the action, and it leads if not to any of the nine circles of the Inferno, at least to cinematic Purgatory.