Friday, 24 July 2015

The Omen (1976)



I find it hard to imagine that anyone reading this blog does not have at least a passing familiarity with this film, but just in case ...

An American diplomat is informed that his son died mere moments after birth.  He is persuaded to secretly adopt another newborn boy, telling no-one - not even his wife - of the exchange.  Five years later, after a seemingly ordinary childhood, things start to go a bit odd.  The boy's nanny commits suicide at his birthday party.  The boy freaks out at being taken to a church.  A crazy priest keeps accosting the diplomat and warning him that his son is the Antichrist.  And as the strange phenomena continue - and become more and more threatening to himself and his wife - the diplomat begins to wonder if perhaps the crazy priest is on to something, after all ...

So the first thing to note is my goodness, but the 4 decades since it was made have not done this movie any favours.  Scenes that were considered shocking at the time - the suicide I mentioned above, and a slow-motion decapitation now - wouldn't raise many eyebrows today, and some of the other 'spooky' scenes are likely to just cause giggles.  "Ooh it's windy and the leaves are blowing around - it can only be Satan's work!".

The Omen has a strong cast that do their best to make the histrionic and implausible script work, but it's a Sisyphean task.  Are we supposed to be believe that a diplomat's son has never been to a church in the first five years of his life?  Maybe today, but in the 70s, I doubt it.  He should at least have been christened.  Then there's a pivotal scene which relies on a British police officer carrying a pistol while on an ordinary beat - which they generally don't even today and certainly did not in 1976.  Then there's giggle-worthy dialogue like when the movie tries to make the formation of the Common Market (today's EU) into a sign of the forthcoming apocalypse.  I know the UKIP thinks the European Union is the devil's work, but you're not actually supposed to take those cretins seriously.

I'm glad I've seen this film, since its renown makes it something of a cultural touch-point, and it's an interesting piece of film history in terms of how audience tolerances and expectationss have transformed since its release.  But I can't actually call it a good film, nor recommend it to anyone on its merits as a work of entertainment.

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