Having seen the new remake of the 1976 hit The Omen, I offer these clues for spotting the Antichrist in our midst, on this, the sixth day of the sixth month of 2006, also known as 6/6/6, which is the mark of the beast, the beast being a harbinger of the End of Days, and the End of Days being the biggest Going-Out-of-Business-Sale in history:
● The Devil hates the zoo.
Satan does not have a sense of levity. Neither does John Moore's movie: When Julia Stiles' evil little boy gets the apes riled up in a London zoo and she says "Um, let's go see the birds," there's not even a wink to suggest anyone recognizes how funny this film is. So the Devil makes PB&Js late at night and it's creepy because it suggests he's up all night ordering from Time-Life Records infomercials, and yet the movie just sees Satan with the jam. He's not much of an actor, either; when our young Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick is called upon to suggest infernal plotting, the kid sulks.
He is a sulking child, yes.
But we expect more from the Son of Satan. So does the movie, I think. The Dolby Digital bangs and growls louder than Mission: Impossible III; when the dogs arrive to protect little Damien, their drool is longer and gooier then in the original; when a priest is impaled, unlike the original he's now impaled and carved into bite-sized pieces by a crashing stained-glass window.
But more feels like less.
We've seen it before, too. We've seen it many times before. What works, as in the 1976 film, are suggestions of evil machinations off-screen: vague, eerie descriptions of a jackal giving birth to a child, the way Damien's second nanny, played by a wonderfully sinister Mia Farrow, fresh off her shift at the Rosemary's Baby Day Care Center for Difficult Children, just arrives one day, anxiously insisting to "see the boy."
● The Devil wears Prada.
If there's anything I remember about the original with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, it's that characters were dressed better than characters in a typical horror flick. They had money. They wore a lot of overcoats. Made in the wake of The Exorcist, its cold steel austerity was right in line with the idea that a horror movie with a smart cast and a smart filmmaker carried built-in class. The more serious the look, the more nervous your laughter got.
The new Omen was written by David Seltzer, who wrote the old Omen, and in the intervening 30 years horror movies have indeed gotten classier and more expensive. They've also gotten cheaper and more splattery. This Omen angles for class (it's a very good-looking movie) but doesn't have the imagination to see past the splatter into more ominous territory. Which is a shame because they have the ideal cast for this.
Stiles, as cold an actress as we have (the perfect stepmother of Satan), takes the Remick role; Liev Schreiber gets Peck's role as the dad. There's Pete Postlewaite and Michael Gambon as a pair of fretting priests; David Thewlis as a photographer with a key to the mystery. Director Moore doesn't take advantage but rather drops them into a bit of celluloid karaoke - a remake that's often shot for shot and line for line a doppelganger of the 1976 sensation.
Down to the overcoats.
● The Devil has a 4.0 GPA.
The great gag of the older film was that earnest all-American parents who did "everything right" were unwittingly raising the bringer of Armageddon. The idea dips into every parent's fear, however fleeting, that they've raised an unholy terror. What parent, inspecting a scalp for lice, hasn't expected to run across a birthmark that (Um, Honey? Come see this, please) looks suspiciouly like 666?
Because so much in the new Omen plays identical to the old Omen, we're left waiting for everyone else to get up to speed on the Son-of-Sam revelation. It becomes that rare thriller that gives us all of the information and the characters none of it. We always know more than they do. Which means another lost opportunity: If anything, here's an chance to comment on absentee parents who pass their terrors off on other people. Or even a comment on parents so achievement-obsessed they've overscheduled their children into tiny dictators.
● The Devil read Da Vinci.
The Omen opens with a montage of the space shuttle exploding, tsunamis swallowing villages, Katrina hitting New Orleans, the World Trade Center toppling - it's cheap and crass, but less about exploiting 9/11 than sucking up to The Da Vinci Code.
This Omen has papal cover-ups, interpreted prophesies, a leading man who appears to be sleep walking, convoluted clues that take our heroes across European locations - and the same squeamishness about criticizing Christianity that The Da Vinci Code's Ron Howard has.
It tiptoes around the idea that the people who believe the world is coming to an end are often the ones making it a nastier place to live. It hints and threatens to make it plain, then chickens out and scampers off for yet another creative beheading.
But that's no revelation. That's Hollywood.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org