Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Omen III: The Final Conflict

What I Knew Going In / What I Was Expecting

This one is a little bit of a cheat because I've seen the remake of The Omen and I've absorbed enough of the original through cultural osmosis to know the gist: there's a little turd kid named Damien who turns out to be the Anti-Christ.  Whoops.

The question is, what's Part III going to be about?  Well... the description says he's interested in politics, so l assume he's going to be running for president or something.  (Insert timely political joke here.)  I also see that Sam Neill stars, so I have to assume he plays Damien. Otherwise the movie's either going to be a huge waste of talent or they're focusing on the wrong characters.

Other than that, I'm drawing a blank.  I'm guessing / hoping this is one of those great movies from back in the day that's more suspenseful than it is bloody?

A (Hopefully) Brief Plot Recap

Damien Thorn, the Anti-Christ, is an insanely successful business magnate and aspiring politician.  He plans to run for the US Senate next year, but in the meantime, he's hoping to get a post as the American ambassador to England.  Partly this is because he thinks it's a great foot in the door for politics, and partly it's because (his version of) the Bible predicts that Christ will be reborn in England, so he might as well be there to kill him along the way to the Senate.

Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for the rest of us, there's a group of Special Ops Priests who have access to the Seven Daggers of Meggido, the only weapons on the planet capable of killing Damien.  They distribute the daggers and conspire to kill Damien before he can do any damage.

The priests then proceed to fail miserably and die in alphabetical order.

Meanwhile, Damien romances a journalist, Kate Reynolds, who seems like she might be important.  She doesn't really amount to a whole lot until the very end, though.  We occasionally cut back to the priests, led by a dude with a Guido Sarducci accent named Father de Carlo who keeps lamenting that they haven't killed Damien yet.

Damien believes the second coming of Christ is at hand and takes precautions (up to and including ordering the deaths of hundreds of innocent people) to prevent Christ from spoiling his plans.  A lot of this is surprisingly dull when it's not disgusting.

Eventually de Carlo visits Kate and tells him that Damien's the Anti-Christ.  She doesn't believe him at first, but then she does.  Damien kidnaps / brainwashes Kate's son and she has a final confrontation in which she stabs Damien with one of the Meggido daggers.  Damien curses Jesus, then dies, and some Scripture is thrown on screen in case you're not sure whether or not Damien's death is a good thing.

What I Liked

Jerry Goldsmith did the score for this one, which is an immediate plus.  I can't say the music really fits the movie too well, to be honest - it's a little too glorious and undercuts the parts that are supposed to be grim and creepy - but damn if Goldsmith's music doesn't draw you in.

The acting is pretty good.  The demon children are sufficiently creepy and Sam Neill, as expected, puts in a terrific performance as Damien.

Speaking of Damien - I dug how the movie portrayed him as a paranoid and calculating villain.  He's aware of his powers and the gravity of the conflict that surrounds him, but he's not over the top or cocky or even particularly malevolent - not to his followers, anyway.  He's suspicious of threats to his plot and treats everything like a move in a chess game.  I like this approach to villainy so much more than the Jeremy-Irons-in-Dungeons-and-Dragons approach you see in most depictions of Satan / The Anti-Christ, where the actor is constantly cackling or sometimes literally spewing fire.  Neill's Damien has a few moments of histrionics, but these are more contemplative moments of soliloquy.  In public, and to the rest of the cast, he is an even-tempered and charismatic leader.  It's exactly the right kind of approach somebody should take if they want to rule the world.

I liked the overall pacing and tone as well.  Although the movie is too slow, it does build a good sense of dread since the terror is based in the slow, inevitable threat of ultimate evil rather than a cartoon monster.

What I Didn't Like

I guess I can sum up my biggest problem in two words: baby massacre.

There's a defense to be made for shocking or violent moments in film, since certain plot lines sometimes require extreme measures to get across the gravity of the situation.  But there's always a point where you, as the viewer, want to grab the director by the collar and throw him up against the wall and say, "I fucking got it already. Stop, Killing. Babies."

Such it is with the third-act turn where Damien commands his disciples to slaughter every infant born on the Day of Prophecy and they carry out his instructions to the letter.  The first murder is horrifying, but as tastefully done as infanticide really can be: you see a stroller roll down a hill, then you see a car coming from one side, then you see the mother shriek, and then you see some debris roll away from the resulting wreck.  You could just do that and move on and it would be upsetting, but not to the point where you feel angry at the filmmakers.

But The Omen III isn't content with that.  They feel the need to show multiple babies in peril and they ratchet up the soundtrack so you can hear their baby cooing and screaming as they suffer and die miserably.  And it happens multiple times.  By the end of the murder spree, you get the feeling that the director really wanted to show a baby get cut open on camera, but they ran out of their budget for special effects and he had to settle for just implied violence.  Meanwhile, anybody with half a conscience is just writhing in their seat and wondering who finds this shit entertaining.

There's also some really strange political subtext to the movie I don't get.  Damien is a young, charming, change-initiating figure who wants young people to have a voice in politics.  But he's also The Anti-Christ.  Movie short-hand tells us that his message and his goal of ushering an age of unquenchable evil are equivalent.  So what the hell does that mean Christ Reborn would represent?  Keeping the status quo and revoking women's suffrage?  I'm not sure I can get behind that, The Omen III.

And speaking of strange subtext... as much as I like Damien as a villain, I really hated the "woe is me" aftertaste of his speeches in the dark.  He has these moments where he soliloquizes and rants at a crucifix, and it comes across kinda like, "You were handed everything because you're the son of God. I'm the underdog and I'm going to succeed because I'm working harder than you."  But is Damien really much of an underdog?  He's still a rich kid who had a cushy upper class upbringing.

And why is he so bent on pain?  I get it - son of Satan and all that - but he's still a man, right?  Doesn't he know that pain hurts?  Wouldn't he get to a point where he'd say, "You know what, Dad?  I tried it your way and it fucking sucks.  I'll help you rule the world and all that, but let's leave the pain realm behind.  Earth has beer, man.  Chill out."

Would I Recommend It

Not really, no.  When it's good, it's fantastic, but most of the time it's either a snooze or it just feels offensive.  I've never been so bored while being outraged in my life.

What I Think the Prequel Was About

I know the first one was about Damien being a creepy kid and his dad tries to kill him.  I'm assuming he fails at that.

But that sets up a really strange sequel.  See, if you asked me to make a sequel to The Omen, I'd immediately jump to when Damien is an adult - but that's the plot of Part III.  So what the hell would the one in the middle be about?

If I was trying to picture the worst possible Part II, it would probably be when Damien is a teenager and is really pissy and moany about everything.  Satan keeps telling him he has a mission, but he doesn't wanna, and he's trying to score with Gina Hawkins, the hottest girl in the tenth grade.  Maybe there's a Battle of the Bands he's entering and he thinks he'll win.  And let's say there's a kindly gentleman who loves Jesus who teaches him to play the guitar, and Damien thinks he'll win through hard work and talent, but when the Band Battle starts, he finds the other kids are playing Rock 'n Roll music instead of folk.  So Damien isn't sure what to do, but his loving father, The Devil, comes up from Hell and infuses him with the power of heavy metal, so he wins the Battle and has sex with Gina.  He decides to swear full allegiance to Hell for the rest of his life, and it's very serious and sad.

But probably that didn't happen.  My actual guess is that Part II was probably a lame re-hash of the first one.  Damien is just slightly older, and there's a slightly different group of religious devotees who are aware he's the Anti-Christ, and they try to kill him through slightly different means, and they all fail in slightly different ways.  And then it just ends with Damien being creepy and not dead.

My Pitch for the Next One

Satan lost.  So, there shouldn't be another one.

I guess he could just have another kid.  That's really boring, though.

I'd recommend a more pensive follow-up where you see Satan trying to recalculate and come up with a new plan, and maybe even go through the stages of grief until he accepts that he's not going to rule Earth.  That might be fun.  You could do The West Wing meets Paradise Lost.  Sign me up.

You kidding me?  Jesus.  Why even bother?

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