Movie Review: "The Omen"
We saw The Omen, on opening night, on the nefarious 6-6-06. *cue spooky noises* Our Snowden Square theater was the most crowded that I've ever seen it--and since we pick Snowden Square because it's not crowded with giggly teenybops, unlike AMC Columbia--and this is not a good thing.
Before I begin to
For those of you who do not know, the movie is a remake of the 1976 original where the son of Satan is born onto earth.
My biggest problem with this movie--along with many others of its genre, to be fair--is the continued reliance on jump-out-and-go-boo tactics to scare the audience. I can't help but to regard this as a form of cheating. The startle reflex results naturally in the release of adrenaline. The heart beats faster, respiration speeds up, digestion and other functions unrelated to immediate survival slow down (this includes sexual arousal, for you
The Omen was almost completely devoid of the psychological horror or frightening atmosphere that makes a good horror movie. And if this was a highly experimental project--trying to create a horror movie around the notion of carniverous orchids attaching themselves to the brooches of old ladies worldwide, for instance--I could excuse it for maybe trying but failing. But this is about the son of Satan, for Eru's sake! It doesn't take much--in our world saturated with religion and Armageddon and conspiracy, from millenium fears to The DaVinci Code--to make people stop and wonder: "What if the son of Satan was born to mortal woman?" (as many believe the son of God was born in Jesus Christ) or "What if the prophesies detailed in the movie--armies rising up on either shore, et cetera, et cetera--really did happen?" Because, I find, the mark of a good horror movie isn't how many times it makes you jump in your seat or how much blood it can splatter in short time but that it makes you think; it makes you ponder possibilities that--walking into the theatre two hours earlier--you would have dismissed as absurd.
Walking into the theatre, as an agnostic and a skeptic, I dismissed the notion of a "son of Satan" as absurd. Walking out of the theatre, it seemed just as absurb, maybe more so.
The Omen doesn't make much of a case, in my opinion, for the prophesies around which it is based. The prophesies supposedly begin with a series of events heralding the birth of Satan's child, and the movie twists current events to fit the Biblical depictions: Mountains falling is the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11; fire coming from the sky was the explosion of the shuttle Columbia upon re-entry; waters rising and killing thousands was, of course, the Christmas tsunami of 2004. But one could choose any time in history and find landmark events that could be loosely interpretted--as these were--to fit the prophesies. Wars have raged, earthquakes have shattered the earth, tsunamis have drowned entire cities for the whole of human civilization. Just because events like 9/11 and Columbia feel very pertinent in our current context, consider how they will be viewed one hundred, two hundred, five hundred years from now. They will not carry the same weight and importance as now because that is attached by us, as survivors and observers of those events, rather than by the events themselves. Just as most of us recognize the magnitude of events like the stock market crash of 1929, it does not carry the significance for me as it did for my grandparents. They might see it as mountains crumbling; I see it as an event in history. It did not change my life in any obvious way.
Consider also that technology has made it possible to share and relive such events to an unhealthy extreme. Two hundred years ago, the tsunami in Indonesia would have gone unnoticed by most of the world. But television and Internet give us immediate access to news happening thousands of miles away, and transportation has brought such tragedies closer to home when Americans and Europeans (i.e. people we find related more closely to ourselves) become victims in events that--two hundred years ago--would have involved just "natives." And so earthquakes and tsunamis have been happening all throughout time--heck, small meteorites have even crashed into the earth!--but now it's just easier to hear about it. And so easier to insert a routine natural event into the prophesy du jour.
Furthermore, I was not convinced that "rising from the sea" was an adequate, fool-proof way of saying that the child of Satan will come from a political family. If you want to talk about overused metaphors and symbols, let's talk about the sea. It signifies permanence and change, wrath and tranquility, survival and destruction. To say that the sea is widely understood as meaning "politics"...well, I could just as easily say that the sea is widely understood as meaning love, prosperity, justice, rage--nearly anything. I could compare marriage to the sea...so the child of Satan will come from a marriage? Or maybe divorce is the sea, so he will be a child of divorce? Or abuse? Or maybe he just comes from a fishing family.
Dealing with Satan in a story is problematic in itself...or maybe opportunistic, depending on how a writer chooses to handle it. Satan is black-and-white, unequivocal evil (if such a thing exists). And this movie is black-and-white and unequivocal, with Good and Evil and nothing occupying the no-man's land in between.
The frustrating part about it is that it didn't need to be that way. Yes, the movie is based on the notion that Damien is the son of Satan, but the movie is not about Damien so much as it is about the people around him and how they react to the idea that he is the son of Satan. I don't see this as unequivocal at all. It seems to me that if I was being told that a child that I had raised as my own for five years was the son of Satan, that I was beginning to see proof of this myself, then my reactions and emotions would be anything but black and white. We do get a bit of waffling from Robert (Liev Schreibner) about whether or not he wants to kill the boy he's raised as his son...if you consider a one-minute escapade where he runs from the room and tosses the ceremonial knives down an alleyway to be "waffling." After that, it's pretty unequivocal.
Indeed, I told Bobby that the best character in the movie does little more but flit about in the background: The cursed photograph Jennings (David Thewlis, the man who brought you Professor Lupin in Harry Potter), when confronted by Robert with the accusation, "You would kill a child to save your own life?" kind of stares at Robert with wide-eyed disbelief like "Need you even ask?" After that, there is Good and there is Evil. There is never any doubt, never (really) any question that Damien is the devil's son and so must die. If you believe that Damien is evil, then you are Good. If you love Damien, then you are Evil. What an opportunity to create a truly complex, shades-of-gray story! What a way to get the audience rallying behind the murder of a child...only to cast doubt as to whether that child is really what the prophesy says he is. What, then, does that say about us, the advocators? I think of movies like Paradise Now and Downfall that I have seen this year, where--at a certain point--I realized that I was rallying for or at least empathizing with the "wrong" side...and then I think of The Omen and the opportunity that the movie had to do the same and didn't. And I can't help but feel that that was a tremendous waste.
A few other brief points that the writers/director of The Omen should take into consideration:
- The son of Satan should at least be a little scary. Of course, this is a problem with actors so young, but I couldn't bring myself to be frightened of a green-eyed, chub-cheeked little boy who rather resembled a childhood version my character meryth being told that no, he could not have another piece of sugar candy.
- Prophesies in themselves introduce a problem to plotlines: They kinda sorta give them away. When we're being told from the get-go what is happening in a movie, if we are to make it a plot-based movie (as The Omen undeniably is), then we should consider conjuring a very creative way to get from where we begin to inevitability. Or we should consider making the movie character-based and putting the cellophane plot in the background altogether.
- I'm not one to question and ponder specific plot points, but I work in law enforcement, and I question the ability of a police department to amass a fully geared-up SWAT team and get them to a specific location over the space of no more than a few minutes. Of course, as Bobby pointed out, the writers had the trouble that the story is set in London, and British police do not carry guns as American police do. (Because I advocated for an overweight, disgruntled beat-cop with a doughnut in one hand and a Beretta in the other to fire the fatal shot, thus making himself a hero for saving the life of a child from a ceremonial knife-weilding maniac...or is he? Apparently, though, British cops may keep the doughnut but not the Beretta. Pity.) Still, one thing that will ruin a storyline every time is for a viewer/reader to scoff and say, "That's not possible." After a whole movie-worth of such scoffing, such an egregious impossibility rather--as they say--put the final nail in the coffin for me.
- If you are going to kill off a guy's wife, at least have him a little sad about it. I mean, come on, Russell Crowe set the standard with some pretty believable grief-induced snot in Gladiator; I really think that's the least an actor can do these days.
- And, lastly, if a writer is to choose a name like "Catherine" for his protagonist--i.e. a name that can be fractured into many monikers--then he should settle on no more than two versions of the name to be used. Kate, Cathy, and Catherine all in the same movie is annoying...and confusing. And pointless too.
My conclusion: Stay home for The Omen. Maybe rent the original, but certainly save your seven or eight bucks for cost of admission and maybe send into the fund that I am henceforth starting to teach writing basics to Hollywood screenwriters. That said, I am forced to give this movie a dismal one Keebler E.L. Fudge Elves Exist cookie out of four.