Thursday, January 17, 2013

Look I just watched The Omen and I gotta say

at 3:34 PM
I don't get what all the hullabaloo is about. I'm not too huge on Catholic horror, be it the '70s Exorcist/Amityville Horror edition or the '90s re-emergence in The Ninth Gate and Stigmata. I don't want to be Tim Bible-Beater here, but Hollywood tends to take a lot of liberties to make Scripture a lot Scarier. Frankly I think it's just not fair to the impressionable kids watching these movies to paint the Bible as this fiery violent arcane apocalyptic tome, only to leave them to discover on their own that most of it is about how Jeb was the son of Jadley was the son of Jauffre was the son of whateversville. Maybe if someone made a movie about a museum curator who accidentally discovers that God only hated 666 so much because he lost the lottery when he played it, I'd, I dunno, I'm gonna say watch it because I feel confident this won't happen.
As per The New Yorker's Greg Livingston: 
"It's raw, it's emotional, and it's a family story we can all relate to."
Livingston is cleverly (or not-so-cleverly) circumventing any qualitative comment on the film because frankly, it's not great. It's not outrageously bad (the only real so-bad-it's-good moment occurs when the protagonists immediately agree that a Biblical prophecy about the Holy Roman Empire refers to the European Common Market), but I can't see why it's a classic. It's kind of pretty poorly written and plotted. Gregory Peck and the villain from Time Bandits have to discover the secret Satanic identity of Peck's five-year-old son, except that the Second Doctor already showed up like a million times and unveiled that secret, that the boy is Christ's Aunty. Did you know that "antichrist" is an anagram for "anarchist"? Coincidence, or something much more sinister??? Peck spends the entire movie in denial I guess, except that he certainly shows no sympathy or compassion for his son. And it can't be a man vs. himself conflict where his denial is sourced in the refusal to accept that his seed could be the Antichrist, because we and he know from the very first second of the movie that it's not his biological son, it's just a fake kid from some fake background. As a matter of fact, it seems like Peck and wife don't even particularly like Damien - they never once speak to him. So when bodies start piling up and a mysterious and overtly evil nanny with some vicious hounds arrives to defend lil' Dami (like twenty minutes in), your brain is left screaming "it's the fucking kid! kill him!" It's too much suspension of disbelief, because it doesn't set up any thematic points. You've got a completely flimsy plot built from an impossible and unearned leap of faith. For plot's sake, Damien shouldn't have been so blatantly evil from square one, but that also would have deprived the film of its one genuinely fun (and underutilized) element: unleashing a sinister toddler on his unsuspecting caretakers.

The scene that really gets me is this: they take the kid near a church and he has this hysterical screaming fit and physically attacks his mother until they hastily drive off (to humorously disgusted looks from the church-goers). Now, either the father brushes off the connection to the church and assumes it a coincidence, or he accepts that Damien refuses churches. If we assume the former, that he's in denial, wouldn't he bring Damien along for their next church visit and see the symptoms repeat? If the latter, well, if you accept that your son can't go into a church without attempting to murder everyone around him, you're certainly far enough down the Antichrist rabbit-hole that you probably don't need to go to Italy to look at a handful of skeletons for proof.

Actually, the word "proof" calls to mind that the movie is plotted essentially like a legal drama. You know all the roles, you know who the bad guy is and so does the hero, but the hero needs to make society (or a judge) see the truth. The whole movie would make a lot more sense if the climactic scene had Peck operating the prosecution in the trial of his son. It also would have been a lot funnier because the film is set in Britain and you know they all wear those funny wigs in court. Putting one of the most respected actors of all time in a Funny British Court Wig can go a long way to redeem a picture.

Beyond this unspeakable wig omission, what could have been interesting characters go completely to waste - the setups exist to develop interesting individual plots, but are tossed aside to focus on Peck's tedious and hammy quest to satiate what amounts to little more than frivolous curiosity about a child he already knows is the spawn of the devil. For example, Evil from Time Bandits plays a photographer who has a series of unexplained run-ins with the Damien family and IN THE GODDAMN BACKGROUND pieces together the entire mystery. His photos begin to evidence a weird trend - they seemingly predict the manner of death of their subjects. And then - uh oh! - he takes a picture of himself and it shows him being decapitated! Oh no! This setup is full of classic potential - the man who knows his own due date. Does he try to defy fate, guarding his neck with chain-mail and avoiding all... things at neck-height? Is he overcome with reckless abandon, setting out to kill the antichrist before the reverse can happen? Or does he run off and get as far away from the situation as possible, hoping to hide in ignorance? Let me spoil it for you: he flies on a plane with Gregory Peck to dig up skeletons in Italy. That he has had a premonition of his own death serves solely to explain why he's in the plot - it's never addressed further and, yup, he really arbitrarily gets killed to little emotional effect.
Making friends over a weekend grave robbery
There's also the Second Doctor, a priest determined to convince Peck that Damien needs to be eliminated. We find out after his death that this guy actually used to be a devil-worshiper and then apparently changed his mind. This sounds like a pretty interesting tale to explore. What caused his change of heart? What is he atoning for? Not addressed! His whole backstory is revealed in exposition and everyone shrugs and goes on with their lives because, yeah, he's dead by then.

I could go on about the shitty plot and nonsensical relationships, but allow me a brief compliment. The music is great. Check out this great Fantomas cover of the theme, "Ave Santini". Also, the famous (and at the time controversial) scene in which Damien's nanny brutally hangs herself is excellently thrilling.

Okay done. Don't bother watching The Omen, I mostly felt like it was a waste of time. Though at this point, since I've already wasted the time, maybe I'll continue in the series, because I'm honestly kinda curious how they dug more plot out of it, and I've already given up all standards related to sequels - Tremors 3 is sitting on my Instant Queue as we speak.

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