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eerily familiar


John Moore's remake of The Omen is an almost scene-for-scene remake of the original 1976 film, so what's the point?

Other than to have something in theaters today - 6/6/06, the much-heralded day of the devil - there probably is none. The new film certainly doesn't re-interpret anything, doesn't move the proceedings from black-and-white to color, and doesn't change the point-of-view or flesh out some characters or even fool around much with the tone. Besides offering the giddy pleasure of seeing Mia Farrow play a demonic nanny, there's not much to the film that a repeat viewing of its earlier incarnation couldn't provide.

Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles play Robert and Katherine Thorn, doubly unfortunate parents - first, because their son dies shortly after being born, and second, because Robert, in a moment of weakness, listens to a priest who suggests that he swap another newborn, one whose mother cannot care for him, for the dead child. His wife, he is assured, need never know.

And so the happy family sets up shop near London, where Robert, thanks to OmenOmen[From Page 1C]

a horrific accident that caused his predecessor to go up in flames, has become the U.S. ambassador to England - a title that comes with a cavernous, stately old mansion in which to raise his family.

Things seem bucolic enough until the fateful day when the family nanny commits suicide on young Damien's birthday, hanging herself from an upper-story window after proclaiming her devotion to the youngster. This obviously distresses poor Katherine, but it also plants a seed of doubt in her mind. This boy, she starts to suspect, is not your average kid.

Of course he isn't; he's the son of Satan - a suspicion many parents doubtlessly have about their little devils, but in the Thorns' case, they're right. And for the remainder of the film, the race is on. Will the new nanny (Farrow), abetted by a Rottweiler with a decidedly nasty disposition, be able to protect the child from everything that is holy? Will Katherine's suspicions about her boy imperil her own life? And how long will it take Robert to realize that Damien is far from a chip off the old block?

Moore, working with original screenwriter David Seltzer, slightly updates the story by pointing to all the nastiness of the past decade, especially the events of 9/11, as proof that the time of the devil is at hand. That new idea is established about 10 minutes into the film, however, and from that point on, the pathways taken by the movie have all been previously trod.

Schreiber does what he can with the role, but he's mainly called upon to look concerned, and that isn't much. Stiles has more to do, as she's the one who has to decide whether her suspicions about Damien stem from her being a bad mother or a prudent one. Stiles lets the quandary play out on her face and in her embrace, which seems marginally more tentative each time she approaches her son. Outside of Farrow, the most appropriately spirited performance is turned in by Pete Postlethwaite as a priest trying to warn the Thorns of their (and the world's) approaching doom.

Attempting to differentiate himself from original director Richard Donner, Moore tries to ground the story in reality. The 1976 Omen had something of a Grand Guignol feel to it, in everything from the casting (enlisting Gregory Peck to play Damien's father was a stroke of genius, like casting God Himself - a trick Schreiber, no matter how good an actor he is, can't pull off) to the Gothic Sturm und Drang that was reflected in everything from the set design to the background music.

Moore, instead, tries to make the story seem more real by grounding it in the mundane. This Omen feels less like an opera than a documentary. That may frighten true believers, but others, this reviewer included, are going to miss the days when over-the-top was a good thing when it came to demonic horror onscreen.

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