A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov
Director John Moore has taken a beating by film fans recently, not only because he makes films that are just competent enough so that people who pick on them can’t really find much to pick on, but also because he is a tough guy on set. Moore swears at his actors, yells at the crew, and displays impatience regarding filming schedules. Personally, that reminds me of many other directors including Michael Bay, and Sam Raimi who infamously almost slapped Tobey MaGuire’s face when shooting Spider-Man 2. If there is one thing that all three of these directors possess is the need for technical perfection. Still, Bay and Raimi are nowhere near Moore’s level in that regard. Bay shoots really quickly, and at times that influences his movies’ technical prowess and flow, which was especially noticeable at the end of The Island. Sam Raimi made Army of Darkness – ’nuff said. But Moore hasn’t failed technically with a film yet and considering how many genres he has already spanned in his short career, that is a commendable thing (Behind Enemy Lines – war/drama/thriller and Owen Wilson’s best acting job ever, Flight of the Phoenix – Adventure/stranded survivors and The Omen – a horror/thriller/theological film.)
After Matthew Vaughn left the X-Men 3 set, Marvel had to choose from two helmers to replace him – Brett Ratner and John Moore. They considered Ratner because of his love for the comics, but why Moore? I think that the only reason is that he would’ve brought a great deal of technical flawlessness to the film, which is something Singer definitely didn’t do. I can just picture Moore working with such a big budget. While I really liked Ratner’s take on the film, a Moore film might have been even better as it would have focused on many more things instead of having it action-oriented like The Last Stand eventually turned out.
When Moore wasn’t hired for the job, company suits quickly hired him to create a remake of the 1976 horror The Omen. They wanted to release it on 6/6/06 as many other films planned on doing (the Brian Flemming directed anti-religion film Danielle was one of them), but none had the backing of this film, and of course none had John Moore’s talent behind the camera. Of course remaking a film as lackluster and failing as the first Omen was a challenge that needed to be given more thought by the filmmakers, instead of the deadline-heavy production that this Omen was burdened with. That is one thing that made 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre as good as it was – a lot of thought went into it beforehand.
The plot of the original Omen and therefore this one tells the story of the son of the Devil – Damien, who is ‘born’ in a politically-influential family – the Thorns. Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) and his wife Katherine are having a baby at the hospital. Katherine miscarries and the baby dies. Robert doesn’t know what to do, because he knows it will kill his wife if she finds out, so he decides (with the approval of a priest) to adopt a new baby before she even wakes up and play him off as the actual one. Too bad the baby’s mom is a jackal.
That’s about all the plot you need to know. I don’t want to go into detail, because it is the plot that is probably the worst part of the film (a big one at that). The good part of the film is its cinematic quality – on all levels, whether they be technical, performance, or entertainment. No matter what you say, John Moore is the star of the show. That is evident from the first 15 minutes of the film when he displays the relationship between mother and son in a beautiful way, with love, devotion, and care all plainly in display. There is nothing remotely demonic here, but it’s actually more heavenly then anything else. Moore has clearly laid the ground work here for a journey of self-discovery that Damien will experience.
As things get progressively worse for the family as they also get progressively weirder, Moore shows no more contempt and tries no more arguments against the evil that has taken over the family. In this way he illustrates Evil in it’s Biblical terms, as powerful as Good and as unstoppable as anything (9/11, tsunamis, asteroids). To portray the spread of evil, Moore dodges Christian imagery and invokes more instances of the sign of the devil, and while on surface value that feels like a part of the plot, it’s much more than that. Animal imagery also dominates the screen, whether it be real or imagined and Moore turns people’s favorite pet – the dog – into a demonically possessed being ( a lot better than Cujo did), he creates discomfort. In fact, this is probably one of the most discomforting film I’ve seen all year (again, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things is up there with it though).
Moore is also a fan of symbolism and through symbolic actions and coincidences, he creates an artsy and thematic motion picture. There is the color red – representing evil, and in one scene even causing it. There is the ‘death-from-above’ that kills the priest and also it’s premonitions seen only by a camera lens – probably the single most ‘supernatural’ aspect of the film, other than Katherine and Robert’s dream sequences. Moore is helped out here by cinematographer Johnathan Sela making his debut in a big feature film. Moore is also unique in the way he portrays death in the movie. For him death, is kinetic, unstoppable, merciless, and provoked as it seems, by something.
The reason why all of this doesn’t work as well as it should is because of David Seltzer’s claustrophobically linear script. Yes, Moore has all of these deep ideas, but the stuff it’s there to accompany is plain bad. Not only is the dialogue bad (sometimes saved by the great delivery from the actors), but there is never any creativity on the part of Seltzer and he sticks this film with the same crappy script that he stuck the 76 film with too. His script almost disintegrates everything that Moore is trying to accomplish.
As far as the acting is concerned, I want to send out a big FUCK YOU!!!! to David Thewlis: FuCk YoU!!!!!! As far as the real actors taking part of this film are concerned they all stand out. To invoke a feeling of discomfort, actor Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick has a one-note performance which absolutely eclipses the original Damien – Harvey Stephens’s performance and is the most memorable performance by a child-actor of the whole year. This type of debut doesn’t even happen in dreams. Liev Schreiber does a good job replacing Gregory Peck, even though it’s harder to get used to him as always in the beginning, but he plays it well and he is really likeable, especially later in the film. Julia Stiles is also fine, but she tends to overreact or emphasize the wrong words in her delivery at times. I don’t know about her performance – it’s too hit-and-miss. Also there is Pete Postlethwaite who is great like in most movies he’s in. He’s probably becoming one of the more familiar character actors in modern Hollywood. Everyone else does fine except Thewlis.
Overall, I want to recommend this film simply because it’s a great exercise in the technical side of cinema, but the film also indicates that if an important enough part of the film’s structure is bad, there is a chance the film won’t be enjoyed. I, myself wish I enjoyed it more than I did, but alas – that was not the case.