The Omen (2006)

By the time poor Kate visits a shrink who embodies all the institutional and moral restrictions she faces daily, you're wanting everyone to jump off rooftops, preferably with nooses.

The Omen

Director: John Moore
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, David Thewlis, Mia Farrow, Shamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Pete Postlethwaite
MPAA rating: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-06-06 (General release)
Nobody particularly wants to go around disturbing a six-year-old child... He wasn't around any of the bad stuff, so he has no visual memory of that stuff. And I hope he won't see the film until he is of an appropriate age.

-- John Moore, Christianity Today (31 May 2006)

Lots of little sixes swirl at the start of The Omen. Ostensibly, this digital bittiness is ominous. Actually, it's small. And it leads more or less directly to the opening scene in the Vatican Observatory (they've got everything at the Vatican), where a mighty ceiling slides open so an officious fellow can scope the skies for a comet -- a comet bearing bad news.

That news would be the coming of the antichrist, here a cute-seeming swaddling child born to a jackal and Satan. You don't see this part, the birth, or even much in the way of the lead-up, but several haunted-looking men later refer to it, and at some point the bones of a jackal are revealed in a grave where a woman is supposed to be: no coffin, not much decay, just a neatly curled-up doggie skeleton cast into the bottom of a very deep dark hole. Those Satanists, they do have a flair for the dramatic.

But long before that horrendous revelation -- which leaves the hapless gravediggers gasping for breath just before they're assaulted by a pack of big black grave-guarding dogs -- the antichrist's coming is foretold, so we're told, by signs out of Revelations, namely, attack on the Twin Towers, Katrina, the Columbia disaster. According to prognosticators in John Moore's Omen, these and other signs sans news footage (say, that comet) augur ill and expressly. Self-described "lapsed Catholic" Moore resists the suggestion that the movie exploits these traumas, claiming instead they indicate the "very fearful and hateful times" in which we live. That said, The Omen doesn't exactly nuance the point, but instead drops in the familiar grainy images as so much emotional and maybe moral provocation. They're available buttons for pushing, and so the movie, which otherwise adheres rather ardently to the 1976 original's plot, offers this reading of the imminent end of days. (We can only hope that the rumors about George Bush subscribing to such thinking are irrelevant, at least to the movie.)

The demon-child -- as everyone knows -- is Damien (played at six by Shamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). His human handlers arrange to have him go home from a Roman hospital with American ambassador Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) and his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles). The plot is full of complicating caveats, none so interesting as the film seems to think they are, but suffice it to say that Kate has gone into the hospital in labor, and leaves thinking this infant is her own, owing to an unconscionable deal struck by her husband with one of the solicitous priests lurking in the hospital hallway shadows. The fact that Robert goes along with this scheme, even if he does believe he's doing it to save his wife the pain of knowing her own baby has died, is so horrific that you dislike him right off. And indeed, he never recovers from this infraction: he remains, in your mind, self-involved, arrogant, and on occasion downright cruel (not precisely Gregory Peck).

And so Kate becomes your point of identification, only she's so immersed in emblems of her own impending doom that she seems annoying for not getting a clue already. She's repeatedly clothed in white or deep, bloody red garments and looking lost in stark, too-spacious interiors in the couple's new abode in London (where Robert is assigned to be ambassador following the death of his boss/mentor), whether she's in a dream or some semblance of "waking life." Kate rightly suspects Damien of being "not right." Sadly for her, she's stuck inside a life with this ooky-eyed kid, whose preposterous performance is less fearsome than silly, even inadvertently comic.

Condemned to the usual girl-in-a-horror-movie antics, Kate turns away in horror when her son's very odd nanny jumps off a rooftop attached to a conveniently located noose, then hires a scary replacement nanny (Mia Farrow), lets her keep a scary dog and feed the child scary bright red strawberries by hand. While Kate is left pretty much alone while she tries to tamp down her growing anxiety, Robert heads to the embassy, where he's accosted by gaunt Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite, who has all but patented the character he plays here). "I saw its mother," he murmurs mournfully. "You must accept the Lord Jesus."

Unnerved but unmoved, Robert is slightly more inclined to believe the "evidence" presented to him by dogged journalist Keith Jennings (David Thewlis): photos showing inexplicable shafts of light through doomed figures. (The doom is only clear after the fact, of course.) As he still hasn't informed his wife that her son is not hers, Robert spends less and less time at home, and Kate spends her days watching Damien frighten other kids and monkeys at the zoo, or watering her hanging plants. She has no friends, no interests, no hope. At last she turns to an unhelpful shrink (Richard Rees), who embodies all the institutional and moral restrictions she faces daily, and by this time, you're wanting everyone to jump off rooftops, preferably with nooses.

The film does provide for a series of gruesome death scenes, including a gasoline explosion, a fierce penetration, and a decapitation, all willed by Damien, his panting black-doggy minions, or his odious off-screen daddy (does it really matter?). The deaths themselves look cheap (shot from high and long to emphasize the gore), though the run-up to each is prolonged and smart-ass, essentially ripped off from Final Destination. Neither shocking nor funny enough (save for the car-slam, which is startling, if not convincing), these mini-set-pieces suggest the film is in fact quite uninterested in exploring portentous signs or earthly iniquities, bad faith or inept fathering. It is, at last, about Kate, the mother who distrusts her child and shouldn't trust her husband. She doesn't have a chance.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.