#57 - The Omen (Richard Donner)




Semblance of Ambiguity

As somebody that has grown up on a steady diet of Hollywood blockbusters I find it interesting how there are some popular films that I’ve always avoided. “The Omen” is one of those films, and I really could not give you the answer to why I’d avoid it, especially since it has a good reputation and is often named in the same breath as one of my favorite horror films - “The Exorcist”. But now after watching “The Omen” I have to state that these comparisons don’t go beyond the obvious, and while “The Omen” is a solid film it also never even comes close to the mastery of Friedkin’s classic.

Still the film does have a good pacing and provides some genuine thrills with its great death scenes. But there is no real sense of mystery and the little atmosphere that the wonderful score by Jerry Goldsmith provides gets bogged down by rather predictable plotting of the story. There are quite a few horror clichés all around and the silly investigation that is found in the second part of the film seemed quite daft to me, as our characters discover symbols and clues and divulge exposition that is all too obvious for a modern viewer.

Yes, the film probably did not have these problems when it was screened in its initial run and all this pseudo religious mumbo-jumbo was way more tolerable and maybe even fascinating to an audience that saw religious horror fiction as something fresh. However I think this is just mediocre screenwriting as “The Exorcist” goes through a similar investigation and comes out completely unscathed. I may be very biased here towards “The Exorcist”, but I can’t help it as I did find those scenes very tiresome in “The Omen”.

Another thing that left me cold with “The Omen” where the characters as I really felt little sympathy for these “beautiful people” and especially the protagonist who, if anything, seems to be roped in to believing all kinds of things because of ancient prophecies that come from the rants of a crazed priest. Furthermore all the events that unfold around him, even the deaths, could be easily seen as morbid coincidence. In fact the only character that I had any feelings of sympathy towards was Damien! As he could have easily been an innocent child surrounded by lunatics who believe him to be something he is not.

This semblance of storytelling ambiguity is actually the film’s greatest asset, but it strikes me as a rather unintentional addition as the film very much veers towards the “he is the child of Satan” option. This is especially the case when we take in to account the handful of sequels that followed this film - a notion that just pulverizes the mentioned ambiguity.

However these problems do not prevent “The Omen” from being a competent horror film and I personally attribute this to Richard Donner, a man that always struck me as a very able craftsman. The structure of the film works very well and as I said it has good pacing, but the rather sloppy writing prevents it from being a true horror classic. A title that others seem to gladly bestow upon it.


Gregory Peck - Robert Thorn
Lee Remick - Katherine Thorn
David Warner - Jennings
Billie Whitelaw - Mrs. Baylock
Harvey Stephens - Damien

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