Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Omen 666

Let me start off by saying that I'm not typically a horror film person. Double if it's a slasher film. I find them to be too focused on the gore and such and very very light on the production skills especially writing and acting.

But I was moved to actually check out this flick both because the original is considered a classic in the horror genre and because the supporting cast includes a trio from my list of favorite but often overlooked actors -- David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Gambon. And while neither Julia Stiles nor Liev Schriber are on my list of folks I will watch even their worst movie because I am obsessed with seeing everything they are on, they are good actors who in a film with a good director and a good script generally aren't unbearable to watch.

The movie starts off with a bit of business at the Vatican observatory in Rome. It's hard to tell if our robed astronomer is looking for something in particular or just going about his nightly business but spotting what appears to be three comets/meteorites very closely together on the same path in the sky clearly disturbs him and over the credit cards we see flashes of research that is about something that can't be good by any stretch of the imagination. It's logical to assume that that trio of heavenly bodies is a portent of something nasty. Probably very nasty. And when the astronomer comes to the researcher we get our confirmation that yes our assumption is correct, this is not good

We move to some kind of meeting hall where our researcher is giving a presentation to none other than His Holiness the Pope and a room full of Cardinals, recounting the words of Revelation about the end of the world and various events like the Challenger, 9/11, Katrina etc. From a production point of view this scene is extremely well done. We have our lone speaker and the images intercut with flashes of the eyes of the various Cardinals and the Pope as they watch and listen. There's no murmurs in the background of anyone talking, only the very low hum of ominous string music. More than once we get a close intercut of a hand stressfully clinched with a rosary wrapped up in the fingers like it's a life line. Almost like said hand belongs to someone silently praying that this isn't what it almost certainly is. I found this way more effective as a way to set up a sense of foreboding and general creepiness than any jump out of the closet monster could ever do. Perhaps in part due to the use of real events. There are real life apocalypse fanatics that have made the same connections between the Biblical words and real events and calling out that 'realism' sets a stage that works very well.

We move to our Ambassador Robert Thorn (Liev) reaching the hospital where his wife Katherine (Julia) was taken after unexpectedly going into labor. Robert has been forewarned that there is complications but this doesn't prepare him for finding out that the child died. And worse, his wife might not be able to have children due to nondetailed 'damage' (details that don't really matter so why waste time on it). Now at first it might seem odd to have a priest telling Robert about this but as priests are often also counselors to those in need, it actually makes perfect sense. Particularly at a hospital in Rome. That he is telling Robert this in a freakishly quiet hospital hall, is just more unsettling to one used to American tv shows and movies that always show hospitals even in the dead of night as a riot of activity and often noise.

The Priest sees this as part of a plan given that Katherine doesn't know that her child is dead (presumably it was a C Section). while at the same time a child was born the same night whose mother died in childbirth and has no other family. The priest tells Robert that that "God will forgive his deception for the sake of the child". Katherine wakes up to Robert and their son and declares him perfect. It's a very sweet moment with tender words of love, soft romantic violin music etc. The moment is followed by home movie style footage of the happy family with everything from the baby walking to Christmas and Birthdays. The movie moments end with Kathy and toddler Damien paying Daddy a visit at work. Robert tells Kathy that he's being transferred to London as Deputy Ambassador, news that thrills Kathy. This is offset by the next scene where a freak car accident leads to the death of Robert's soon to be UK boss and he becomes the Chief Ambassador.

Some two and a half ish years later we cut to the happy scene of Damien's fifth birthday with kids, carnival rides and reporters everywhere. Oh yeah and the creepy black dog the nanny sees right before hanging herself off the roof in front of everyone like a total nutter (her shoe falling and breaking open several bottles of red wine was a superb touch). Everyone else goes screaming but Damien seems unfazed, even waving at the dog. The whole event of course causes a media, especially tabloid, frenzy when Robert arrives at work. He gets a very creepy visit from a priest who was at the hospital that night and rants like a lunatic about saving him, murder etc. Robert has the priest removed but his face shows that he's put off guard by the whole thing. One of the reporters, who was also at the party, gets photos of the priest being walked out by the police. (Thewlis and Postlethwaite respectively).  Mia Farrow makes a stunning turn as the new nanny who doesn't seem to be exactly what she appears (yeah the agency sent her, don't think so on that one). And her 'I'm here to protect you' is chilling.

The first real sign that something is wrong with Damien is when he suddenly freaks out, actually attacking Kathy, when they approach a church for a big ceremony Robert is supposed to attend. Later Kathy notes that he's never been even a little sick before and there's something strange about him. Robert tries to assure her that he's a normal little boy and he was just scared but he doesn't seem to totally believe his words. This is followed by Kathy having a freakish dream that Damien is trying to kill her and Robert finding a dog in Damien's room, brought in by Mrs Baylock (yep the same dog). Robert insists the dog is removed, it growling at him for being in the room didn't help the case. More odd bits pile up, often involving animals. As they continue Kathy is clearly getting more and more freaked out and more certain there is something wrong with Damien. She also continues to have freaky dreams about her son. Father Brennan, the priest that came to the Embassy, catches Robert at an event and insists on having 5 minutes with Robert telling him "your wife is in danger".  At that rainy day meeting, the priest tells Robert that his son is basically the Antichrist and must die. He also tells Robert that Kathy is pregnant and that Damien will kill the child and Kathy before the baby is born and eventually Robert. Robert dismisses the man as a total nut. Is Robert disbelieving because if it is true he is partly to blame for going along with the lie and bringing the baby into their lives. I'm thinking yes.

The priest dies in a freak 'accident' on the steps of the locked church where he was running for safety, Robert receiving a copy of the news story just after Kathy tells him that she's pregnant and has no desire to keep the child (blaming herself for her son being a complete freak, survey says yes). Robert, to appease Kathy, goes to a session with her therapist where Robert finds out that Kathy has been talking about Damien not being hers, being evil etc. The therapist thinks that it's some kind of delayed post partum depression type thing but Robert is finally becoming convinced that Brennan was at least partially telling the truth. This feeling grows as Kathy "accidentally" falls, losing the baby, when Damien "accidentally" bumps into the chair she was standing on to water some plants, certain he did it on purpose to kill her.

Keith Jennings, our inquisitive photographer, contacts Robert with his odd photos of Damien and the people surrounding him like the Nanny, Father Brennan etc. including one that appears to forecast Brennan's manner of death. Jennings, perplexed by all of it, used his reporter skills and presumably connections to get a couple of Brennan's autopsy including details of an apparent birth mark of the number 666 on his leg. Jennings shows Robert more wacky details sealing Robert's belief. Jennings offers to help but Robert intially refuses. He changes his mind when Jennings shows him a photo that appears to show that Jennings is set to die by beheading, so he wants to help in part to save himself.

Eventually Robert and Jennings do figure out the truth, including that it was no happenstance that Robert ended up with Damien. And yes eventually things are put to an end. But I don't want to ruin the details of that part of the tale. So I'll end my recap here and instead focus on the production quality. Short version, awesome. The director and designers made use of lots of colors, in particular desaturated colors to give various moments a totally unreal feeling. Lots of stark angles, empty rooms, particularly with Kathy. Cold, rain and snow add to the dark feeling on several occasions. And the music. Oh my the music was perfectly in tune to the moods. Lots of strings, brass, heavy ominous music contrasted with low hums or even at times silence. The makeup design on the priest that gave Robert the baby perfectly matched the notion of revealing the monster within (looked a bit Voldemortish even which was a course likely happenstance but amusing nonetheless with Thewlis in the moment). There was also some great use of lighting, in particularly under lighting certain scenes like the cemetery. Plus tons of little touches like the color of certain garments and such. And there are several wonderful moments of silence where the camera lingers on a person's face, hands etc. No words, just a look or even a sigh. Which is often more effective than even the best written dialogue. The only fault I have with any of the production is after getting through a good 90 minutes of smooth camera work they blew it with a very shaky cam during a rather important bit of dialogue.

Despite being played as a horror flick this was really more of a thriller that just happens to be about the devil and the end of the world and I found it actually very enjoyable. I can't speak to it as a remake having never seen the original so I don't know if that flick is more horror or thriller but I did like this version very much and I definitely recommend it anyone that likes a good thrill. And doesn't mind a bit of gore.

Get It:
Unfortunately neither this movie nor the soundtrack are currently available on iTunes. Off to other sources you go.

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