You tolerated the bogus piety, extra-Vatican hugger-mugger, and general Panavision gloom of the original The Omen because you knew there was a really cool decapitation or impalement to follow. Alas, the days when a possessed nanny could hurl herself from a mansion roof and dedicate her demise to the Antichrist are gone. Nowadays, a self-disrespecting apocalypse movie can’t get by on gore or exotic religiosity alone without also milking Sept. 11 for value-added unease.
How Sept. 11 is John Moore’s lousy remake? It opens with a montage of images from that dreadful day in a failed attempt to get you properly antsy even before the movie’s evil tiny tot of terror gets all devilish. But Moore—he of the OK Flight of the Phoenix remake—has other tragedies to co-opt. The same montage also features Abu Ghraib torture victims, African famine victims, and assorted political riots. This is done to initiate The Omen’s basic premise: The world is scary and fucked-up. So scary and fucked-up, in fact, that the Antichrist can slip onto the proscenium of world events unnoticed.
Like Richard Donner’s original, Moore’s version offers a Washington power couple—in this case, Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles—who, thanks to the machinations of some cultish Catholic order, end up raising Damien, aka the Antichrist (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). Indications that their bad seed may be, you know, really bad are ignored. Like when, upon viewing a church whose architecture is a ringer for the World Trade Center, Damien goes all Tourette’s. (Later, some ancient illuminated manuscripts reveal a WTC-like structure.) Or when the newly recruited nanny (Mia Farrow) insists that a hound-of-hellish dog would make the perfect pet for the boy. Things like that, and the tendency of people who disapprove of Damien to die horribly.
The sole way the new Omen might conceivably work is in its sadistic one-upmanship of the original’s fanciful deaths. But Moore’s idea of gore innovation is to simply linger on its bloody remains. And as a post-Left Behind Armageddon movie in which none of the principal players are born again, you know everybody is doomed, so the only thing really in danger is Schreiber’s career, which, after his performance in The Manchurian Candidate remake, is on the precipice of devolving into that of point man of paranoid conspiracy movies. His work here is—how to put it politely?—fucking awful. Nobody fares much better: Stiles looks pretty while suffering.
As a reporter, David Thewlis smokes cigarettes in a fatalistic manner that suggests he’s mulling over how steep a fall it is from his work in Mike Leigh’s great Naked to this opportunistic crapshoot.