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Review: The Omen (1976)

The Omen (1976) 

Directed by: Richard Donner

Premise: After contact with a mysterious priest and a string of unusual accidents, an American diplomat (Gregory Peck) and his wife (Lee Remick) begin to suspect their son is the Antichrist.

What Works: The Omen is a frightening thriller that executes suspense, horror, and drama equally well and uses them together to undermine the notion that good always triumphs over evil. The film works as a family drama first, as Robert Thorne (Peck) lies to his wife about the death of their son in childbirth and unofficially adopts a baby he knows nothing about. As the story continues, Thorne finds the lie unraveling his life and he digs himself deeper into it, refusing to acknowledge what is right in front of him.  Beyond the family drama, The Omen pries into questions of modernity, free will, and the nature of evil. While Thorne searches for the truth of his son’s parentage, the film forces Thorne into a spiritual conflict as the modern rational man tries to grasp things that are irrational. The Omen is notable for some iconic sequences, namely the very creative death scenes that were copied and borrowed by the slasher genre in the 1980s. But whatthe film does so well is to allow these accidents to occur in ways that suggest ambiguity; they might be the hand of a supernatural force or just circumstance working itself out. Thorne, as the contemporary man, keeps trying to take control of things that are beyond his means to manipulate and the film’s conclusion suggests the hopelessness of prophesy and determinism; if his son is indeed the Antichrist and the end is nigh, then there is nothing Thorne can do to stop it. As a New Hollywood film, The Omen places Gregory Peck, a respected and masculine actor, in a place of powerlessness. Like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes or Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, this suggests frustration with a world that is too big and too complicated for us to control. Beyond that, The Omen suggests that evil will not merely overpower good but that it is predestined to do so.

What Doesn’t: Of the films in the trend of demonic cinema to come out at this time, The Omen is by far the darkest in its outlook and for that reason audiences may find it too upsetting.

DVD extras: The two disc special edition includes commentary tracks, featurettes, deleted scenes, and image galleries.

Bottom Line: As a part of the New Hollywood movement and as a film in its own right, The Omen is a frightening thriller not just because it suggests that evil is alive and functioning in the world, but because it suggests that our ability to combat evil is inherently thwarted.

Episode: #210 (October 26, 2008)