A bloodless horror
The Omen 15, general release Offside PG, selected cinemas
Someone once had an excellent idea for a film to scare the pants off us: what if Gregory Peck (who represented nothing but good sense and respectability) adopted a baby boy, and that cute ickle shock-headed newborn turned out to be Satan? And Satan wanted Mummy and Daddy dead, so he could inherit everything they had — in fact ultimately inherit the earth and bring about his true aim, which we call Armageddon? What if the only thing Peck could do, to stop him, would be to murder him — or try to? Wouldn’t that be a great movie?
Well, yes, it would and it was. The Omen has been making people jump out of their skins for 30 years. And now it’s been remade, but with one crucial ingredient missing: surprise.
To remake, almost in replica, a horror film that depends upon surprise is rather baffling. Excuse me for pointing out the obvious but since anyone who has seen the original movie knows exactly what’s coming, doesn’t that rather spoil the shock factor? An element on which, let’s face it, a horror film rather depends?
It’s odd that the director of this remake, John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines), should have chosen to miss the opportunity to terrify even those of us who had seen the original film. He could have led us to expect the original shocks, and then have delivered something new, unexpected and more disturbing. An audience that thought it knew what was going to happen, and was then completely wrong-footed, could be truly unnerved.
But no. When I saw the original Omen for the first time I saw more of the sofa cushion held in front of my face than of the television screen. It would be more accurate to say I heard the film rather than saw it. This time around I was so unscared that at one point I found myself wondering whether Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) was driving a Toyota or a Lexus. Not a good sign and particularly since I am a complete wuss when it comes to horror films.
You may say, ‘But what about people who never saw the first film?’ Well, hang on just a second: can The Omen really have been remade for an audience which is over 18 years of age but has never seen the original? That’s quite a limited demographic. After all, the first Omen has been showing at Christmas and Easter fairly consistently for a good many years. And, in any case, this film’s target audience should be expectant parents — they’re the ones it has the most potential to spook.
No, there are two reasons for this remake, and they’re both pretty feeble. One: the release date is 06.06.06 — which we all know means Satan (and how do most of us know 666 is the Mark of the Beast? Because we saw it in the original Omen movie). And two: ‘We saw a gap in the marketplace,’ says Fox chairman Tom Rothman. And with that terrifically uninspiring comment, all is made clear.
Enough of that. Go and see Offside instead. It’s about a group of Iranian women trying to get into a football match in Tehran, and it’s marvellous. With great good humour and kindliness Jafar Panahi (the director) has addressed discrimination, freedom and authority in Iran.
Match day in Tehran: Iran is playing Bahrain in a World Cup qualifier. A young Iranian woman is discovered at a stadium turnstile, dressed as a boy. She is taken to a makeshift pen behind the stands where a handful of women, all wearing disguises, are being detained by soldiers.
The mood is fractious: the women are upset and the soldiers are bolshie. No one has got what they want. The soldiers are sick of being in the army, and the women are tantalised by the roars of the crowd. Their fear of any forthcoming punishment is initially put in the shade by their frustration at missing the match.
The two ‘sides’ begin gradually to open a dialogue, courtesy of an outspoken woman who is more than a match for the soldiers. She looks a lot like a bloke, smokes and swears openly, addresses them as equals, is aggressive or wheedling by turns, and argues with fierce integrity. The other women plead, cajole and giggle — which maddens the soldiers still further.
But no one is seriously angry. The soldiers are trying to enforce a law they didn’t make and don’t really care about. They know how absurd they sound, and their side of the argument (that women are banned because the swearing and shouting in the stadium will offend them) gradually falls silent. They are gently persuaded into compassionate, reasonable behaviour.
It’s a highly entertaining comedy, and the best thing about it is — you don’t have to watch any football.