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The Omen (2006)
Surprisingly good remake. Against all odds, I liked it a lot.
I was able to get into a press screening leading up to Fox's big "Omen" press junket in NYC.
Judging by the IMDb boards, people seem to be going into this remake with some very strong preconceptions. People who hate the mere idea of an Omen remake so much they'll never allow themselves to enjoy this will obviously come away disappointed. But I'm a fan of the original, and I can honestly say I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. It may be the first effective horror remake Hollywood has pumped out.
First, let me clarify: this is not, by any stretch, a shot for shot remake in the style of Gus Van Sant's Psycho. It is fairly faithful to the original plot (this is, in my opinion, a good thing) but various things have been added, and those scenes remain the same have all been reworked either in minor or significant ways. I just rewatched the original a month ago, so it may be that I was more attuned to the differences, but I found they hit a good balance in keeping close to the original while adding flair and revamping certain things.
The remake starts out in the vatican with a scene comparing modern day disasters to eerily similar imagery foretold in the Book of Revelations. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of clueing in the audience to the fact that the antichrist was coming so early in the film, but the scene is well done and was effectively creepy. The use of 9/11 footage (as well as starving africans and hurricane katrina) apparently caused someone to storm out of a Q+A with the director later in the week (alas, I wasn't present at that event). I didn't find it tasteless, but I'm guessing this might divide audiences. At any rate, it's a genuinely unsettling opener.
We're then introduced to the new Robert and Kate (as she's called a few times in this one) Thorn. There's a brand new death right at the outset of the film which I won't spoil, but which fits in well and offers an explanation for the young couple's sudden rise to power. From there, the plot unfolds pretty much as expected, but with a few twists. Kathy's paranoia is emphasized a little more heavily, with some nightmare sequences relating to her newfound pregnancy. And a couple of the deaths are redone. Kathy's new death is particularly hair-raising. Immobilized in a full body cast with her jaw wired shut, she can only cry and try to scream quietly as she's held down and a murder of a particularly medical nature is exacted. Mrs. Baylock also gets a brand new sendoff involving a sledgehammer, a car, and a rainstorm. The audience I saw it with (mostly critics, even!) cheered at her death.
The original's deaths weren't exactly low-key, and for the remake they clearly wanted to up the ante. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - the results are fun to watch and sometimes disturbing. But I did find myself snickering occasionally at how over the top the offings were. It's not enough that the priest get impaled, he has to get a face (and chest) full of glass too. Not enough that the mother fall and break a rib, she has to plummet down the tallest foyer in the history of movie sets and shatter every bone in her body (who decides to casually water flowers on a teetery chair overlooking a three story drop, anyway!?). And so on.
The biggest surprise of the remake is that it's scarier than the original, which I always considered to be more of a creepy drama than a horror film anyway. This is shot like an out-and-out horror movie, and it works well. There are only a few jump out scares, but it has a much tenser, more nail-biting pacing than the original.
The cast is, for the most part, very good. The supporting cast is actually more memorable than in the original, with David Thewlis and Mia Farrow being the standouts. Farrow's Baylock is particularly interesting, masking her true intentions with a sickly sweet exterior. Her approach to the character is a departure from the original (some may miss Billie Whitelaw's icy turn) but I thought it was one of the best things about this remake. Pete Postlethwait and Michael Gambon are their usual reliable selves. The leads are the weak spot. Liev Schreiber's a damn fine actor, and he actually holds up well as long as you don't try to draw any direct comparisons to the legendary Gregory Peck. But Julia Stiles is merely adequate. It's not a great role in the first place and, unlike Lee Remick, she doesn't do anything to make it memorable. She's not bad, but she doesn't bring any weight to the part.
The one tangible failure of the remake is the score. Marco Beltrami's music is effective and, in other circumstances, I might even laud it as a solid effort. But it just isn't as distinctive or memorable as Jerry Goldsmith's legendary "Ave Satani." The fact that Beltrami didn't even see fit to work some of the original themes into his score is a just a painful missed opportunity. And by the time some Goldsmith finally does show up over the end credits, it's just salt in the wound.
Minor reservations aside, this is an effective movie in its own right, and it won't poop all over your fond memories of the original. Whether a remake was needed at all is another debate, but considered on its own merits, I found the new Omen to be good, scary fun. I'd advise people to go in with an open mind - you might just like it.