Signs of the Times

Much is made in the new version of The Omen of the 6th day of the 6th month, 2006 being the day that Armageddon will arrive. That’s today, so hopefully there will be someone left alive to read this tomorrow. I’ll look pretty stupid if there isn’t. In any event, that numerical co-incidence, coupled with 9/11, barcodes, the Columbia space shuttle disaster, the Asian tsunami and the appearance of a mysterious comet, convince the scientists at the Vatican Observatory that the end of days is upon us. At the same time, American diplomat Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is switching his stillborn son for a healthy child at a hospital in Rome, without informing his young wife Katherine (Julia Stiles).

The story flashes forward, through judicious use of home video montage, to where the family have moved from Rome to London, where the well-connected Robert is now ambassador. There’s a big garden party to celebrate the fact that the demon child is now five, where his devoted nanny hangs herself off the roof in front of the guests. This horrible act, drawings of which later decorate his bedroom, start an awareness in Damien (newcomer Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) that he is different from all the other kids. When a frantic Irish priest Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) and a local photojournalist Keith Jennings (David Thewlis) arrive to tell Ambassador Thorne that his son is the antichrist, he doesn’t believe them at first, even if his wife has her suspicions. Finally convinced he must act to stop the child, he finds the forces of evil, mostly channelled through the benign shape of Nanny Baylock (Mia Farrow) are a far tougher test of his diplomatic abilities.

Schreiber does well in the Gregory Peck role, occasionally mimicking the late actors growling incredulity. Opposite him, Julia Stiles as Katherine is unconvincingly brittle, never giving the impression she hasn’t read the lines from a page before forming the words. She does have a great death scene though and its here that the film shows its merit, coming up with new twists on the classic scenes of Mousetrap-like demonic spite that put paid to more than a few characters in the build-up to the final battle.

Dundalk-born director John Moore overcomes the inevitable familiarity of the shot-for-shot nature of his remake to create a sustained atmosphere of dread through some choice cinematography, especially in the flashy dream sequences, and judicious use of a screeching soundtrack. Although the scripting is far from sharp, there are plenty of well-crafted jumpy moments, familiar to those that know the original film, but tweaked through costlier, gorier special effects to provide the film with a reason for being. Moore, whose last film was a remake of The Flight of the Phoenix, shows again that he can deliver a well executed and handsome film which should allow him to graduate from these uninspired studio jobs towards something more substantial.

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